Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major (CD review)

Also, 2 Romances. Midori, violin; Daniel Dodds, Festival Strings Lucerne. Warner Classics 0190295179205.

By John J. Puccio

It still seems like only yesterday to me that violinist Midori Goto (b. 1971) made headlines after a surprise appearance at Tanglewood with conductor Leonard Bernstein. That was in 1982, when Ms. Goto was only eleven years ago and had not yet decided to go by only the single name “Midori.” Today, she is no longer the child prodigy, but she is an honored musician worldwide with about two dozen record albums to her name.

With this latest recording, Midori tackles the Beethoven Violin Concerto, a project one might have expected her to have undertaken many years ago, given the popularity of the music. Perhaps better late than never, and fans of the violinist’s fluid, mellifluous style will no doubt find great satisfaction in the performance. For myself, I found Midor’s interpretation beautiful, to be sure, but at the same time somewhat languorous, and occasionally almost inanimate. To each his own.

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major in 1806, where it received an unsuccessful première and was practically shelved for the rest of the composer’s lifetime. He never published another violin concerto, so maybe his heart wasn’t in it. The world would have to wait until 1844 to see it brought back to life by violinist Joseph Joachim and conductor and composer Felix Mendelssohn, and, of course, it has been one of the leading concertos in the genre ever since.

The concerto begins with a lengthy and fairly laid-back introduction before the violin finally enters with some flourish. The slow, central Larghetto follows, and a lively Rondo caps things off. I found Midori’s particular style best suited here to the slow movement, where she is able to give free rein to her delicate tone. Compared to some of her colleagues on the violin, however, most the concerto sounded to me a little too tepid. Compare it, for instance, to the electrifying performance by Jascha Heifetz (RCA), the well-rounded version from James Ehnes (Onyx), the more traditional approaches of Itzhak Perlman (EMI) and Henryk Szeryng (Philips), as well as other contenders from Vadim Repin (DG), Gidon Kremer (Teldec), Arthur Grumiaux (Pentatone), and Rachel Baron Pine (Cedille). I’m not sure Midori’s performance quite stands up to these distinguished accounts, despite her complete mastery of the instrument.

Anyway, the recording begins with the Lucerne Festival Strings under director Daniel Dodds playing the opening section somewhat listlessly, which is probably what Midori wanted in order for the whole affair to coalesce around her ravishing but decidedly relaxed performance. Incidentally, the Festival Strings Lucerne was originally established as a chamber string orchestra, but Maestro Dodds adds further instruments as needed, such as here.

Understand, it isn’t that Midori’s tempos are slow or lethargic; they certainly are not. It’s just that she seems to prioritize a perfection of tone above musical color. So, while the performance is lovely to listen to, there isn’t a lot of passion in it. In her booklet notes, Midori indicates that she finds “Beethoven’s composition singularly sincere, beautiful, elegant, and noble,” and that’s the way she plays it. Personally, I would have opted for a little more vibrancy and fire, but that’s just me.

Coupled with the concerto are Beethoven’s two Romances for Violin and Orchestra, Nos. 1 in G major, Op. 40 (1803) and No. 2 in F major, Op. 50 (1798). Because he published the second of them first, it bears the designation No. 1. The two Romances are sort of precursors to the Violin Concerto, and whatever the numbering the F major Romance has always remained the more popular. The Romances have a graceful lyricism about them that nicely suits Midori’s graceful style, and I actually enjoyed them more than I did her performance of the Concerto.

Producer Wolfram Nehls and engineer Max Molling recorded the music at KKL Luzern, Switzerland in March 2020. The recording is quite nice, with everything sounding remarkably realistic, lifelike, without any undue brightness or edginess. Instruments appear smooth and well rounded, with good dynamics, air, and bloom. The solo violin is well placed, too, clearly the center of attention but not ten feet in front of the orchestra.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

1 comment:

  1. I liked this album better than you did! It's certainly not as energetic and pushy as Heifetz's, but it's a lyrical performance that I find an equally valid way to present the music.

    ReplyDelete

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa