By John J. Puccio
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.
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.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: