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Beethoven Violin Concerto Op 61

Discussion in 'classical' started by Todd A, Nov 15, 2020.

  1. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

    For this Beethoven year, I decided to systematically listen to all recordings of the Violin Concerto in my collection and to snap up some recordings that I had, inexplicably given my collecting proclivities, not yet acquired. This is not Lou's best concerto effort (that's the Emperor), nor is it the pinnacle of the Violin Concerto repertoire (that would be the Sibelius), but it's pretty nifty, and in a great performance, it's a crackerjack work. Now, starting in on this shootout, I'll just mention that my long-standing favorite is from the incomparable Ferras/Fluffy pairing, so that will come last, to hear if it holds up.

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    I started with one of the first recordings of the work I heard: Isaac Stern paired with Leonard Bernstein. In the Allegro ma non troppo, Bernstein and the New Yorkers start things off nicely, with decent weight and admirable control, with Lenny opting for sensible tempi. Stern sounds fairly light, small, and thin, and Lenny scales back for him. A couple obvious edits pop out, as one expects with this violinist, and the cadenza is slow, weak, at times unsteady, and boring. The aged sound cannot be avoided, and in the tuttis one can hear increased hiss level, at least in The Bernstein Edition release, indicating some mixing desk tomfoolery. In the Larghetto, Lenny and crew again lay down fine support, and Stern fares comparatively better here. The movement is small of scale and leisurely, and sounds reasonably nice, I guess. The famous duo close out with a Rondo of more or less sufficient pep, though again Stern sort of bores, though his cadenza, very obviously pasted together from multiple sessions and with obvious level manipulation, is a bit better than in the opening movement. A good amount goes missing. One good thing about shootouts is that one can root out duds. I will never listen to this recording again.
     
    Alexm2033 likes this.
  2. alanbeeb

    alanbeeb pfm Member

    Wrong, its the 4th. There's just too much tum-ti-tum-ti-tah-tah in the Emperor.

    Wrong again! that's Brahms. Or Shostakovich 1. Ooops.... all IMHO in case George is reading :p.
     
  3. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Next up, Nathan Milstein with William Steinberg leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Steinberg leads a peppier and tighter orchestral opening, and Milstein's playing, while perhaps a touch more wiry than sweet, is orders of magnitude better than Stern's from the first note on. And the fiddler's tone turns sweet enough, with Milstein sort of effortlessly cruising along throughout. Steinberg's support really is quite superb, energetic and weighty and proper middle period Beethoven sounding. Milstein of course plays his own cadenzas, and fine ones they are, especially when he soars into the high registers, spins off double stops like they ain't nothing, and sort of just plays with high end playing that is not a pyrotechnical display because it needn't be one. In the Larghetto, Milstein ramps up the tonal allure even more, while Steinberg leads robust accompaniment in the tuttis, offering a nice contrast to the soloist. When supporting the soloist, the conductor cedes all glory to Milstein, which is only right. The Rondo is springy, buoyant, beautiful fun, where the violinist charms as he gleefully romps through the score. Everything about this recording stomps all over the Stern/Bernstein one. Even the mono sound is a step up sonically.
     
  4. pbarach

    pbarach Member

    Midori's newly released recording is worth checking out. And she uses the Kreisler cadenzas instead of the ridiculous transcription of the cadenzas Beethoven wrote for the piano version of Op. 61.
     
  5. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Next up, Shlomo Mintz and Giuseppe Sinopoli. Taking about four minutes longer than Milstein in the opener, the piece is much more leisurely, with Sinopoli offering a sumptuous sound, and Mintz himself is in no hurry at his first appearance. Or his second. Or ever, really. When the violin part soars to the upper registers, Mintz takes his sweet, languid time. He even does so in the cadenza. The Larghetto keeps up the slowness, and tips right into saccharine and nearly gloppy playing. Scratch the word nearly. But it's gloppy in a beautiful and appealing way. The Rondo sounds a bit broad, but also more conventional, if the last bit of oomph and drive goes missing. But this set isn't about that at all. The whole thing sort of makes the listener feel naughty, listening to something so indulgent; it's the music equivalent of eating a ridiculously rich, heavy, gooey lava cake injected with way too much high cocoa butter content milk chocolate. You shouldn't like it, it's bad, but dammit, you know it's good.
     
  6. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Perlman and Giulini. The Allegro ma non troppo comes in at over 24', but Giulini was the master of perfect slow or slow-ish tempi. No dragging, mushy indulgence here. No, here is grand, serious, weighty Beethoven of an overall caliber impossible to surpass. Perlman in his 30s was in fine fettle with his fiddle and his playing is every bit as serious as Giulini's conducting. Not a note is out of place, nothing is rushed, but there is no strain or challenge, either. In the Larghetto, Perlman plays a bit quicker than Mintz did, and the effect of soloist and band and approach yields a more serious, more poetic approach, though not one so OTT. The Rondo finds Perlman dashing off his part with a most satisfying ease and nonchalance, without sounding as overtly virtuosic as Milstein most of the time, and then more so in the flashiest writing. Overall, a rock-solid version.
     
  7. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Sticking with Giulini on the podium, but switching to Salvatore Accardo for solo duties, and the La Scala band, the opening Allegro ma non troppo remains broad of conception, and quite serious, but also more relaxed and lyrical. Accardo goes for a laid-back tempo, and plays with a warm, rich, beguiling tone. The orchestral parts end up more comparatively prominent than in prior versions, but Giulini's conception compels even more here than with the Philharmonia. A few times, Acccardo's playing sounds less exact than Mintz, sticking with a slow version, let alone Milstein, but that's OK. The Larghetto goes for a full-on lyrical approach from both band and soloist, with Accardo's tone especially affecting. Giulini's conducting lends a sound very reminiscent of slow movement the G Major concerto at times. Nice. The Rondo sounds comfortable and fun and a deft combination of refined and rustic. The comfortable tempo and Giulini's nifty details - the horn calls, say - just make the music fall easily on the ear.
     
  8. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Moving on to a classic of the Gramophone, Jascha Heifetz paired with Charles Munch and his fine Boston Symphony. In the vaunted Living Stereo reissue, the mid-50s recording sounds fine, though one can tell it's an ancient stereo recording. Everything is exactly as it should be. First, as is so often the case with this fiddler, the overall tempo is fast, and he makes it seem easy. Nothing poses a technical challenge to Heifetz. He soars into the high registers with a silly easy feel, navigates the trickiest passages extra fast just to make them sort of a challenges, dashes off the cadenza like a quick one-take in the studio, and otherwise zips through everything. And that's sort of a problem: more than with even Milstein, this becomes just a virtuoso showpiece. This is most evident in the pure surface Larghetto, and the least consequential in the exciting Rondo. In terms of excitement and execution, from soloist and band, this version is hard to resist, though I wanted more. In this listening case, that meant just letting the Mendelssohn play.
     
  9. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Pinky with Danny Boy leading the Chicagoans. Yep, of course it's broad of tempo, but definitely unlike with Mintz and less so than with Accardo, one hardly notices. Zukerman's playing sounds supremely controlled and quite appealing, and Barenboim's conducting, especially in the tuttis, is most assured and on the romantic side of the classical spectrum. It's major label good. The Allegro also finds Zukerman playing a fine cadenza and truly exceling in the slower, quieter passages, really delivering a dark-hued and appealing sound. The Larghetto extends that slow music goodness and cranks it up a bit. Zukerman is perfectly at home eking out gossamer highs, and sustaining the line at a slow and perfectly controlled tempo. Barenboim backs his buddy as ably as a conductor could. It's the highlight of the recording. The concluding Rondo could be peppier, but what it lacks in pep, it makes up for in smoothness and ample weight in the tuttis. Not my favorite overall, but a just so take sure to please if one just wants to sit and listen.
     
  10. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Teenage Ms Mutter and old man Fluffy. Of course the conductor gets exactly the lush, string dominated sound he wants in the opening tutti and elsewhere, but when Mutter enters, one can hear what the old man saw in her. Her control is superb, her tone, aided by a generous acoustic and perhaps some added reverb, sounds big and rich, at least when it doesn't sound light and sweet. The slow overall tempo never really drags. Rather, the music unfolds in a not particularly spontaneous way. Mutter goes for a slow, dramatic cadenza to demonstrate her superb control, and it works for that reason, though others entertain more. The Larghetto is also quite broad and both conductor and soloist deliver the goods. It lacks engagement and seems somewhat detached, but it sounds splendid. The Rondo is conventionally timed and mixes vibrant solo and tutti passages with slightly slower and more fluid passages, with smooth legato aplenty, helping the music sail along. Somewhat like Zukerman/Barenboim, this is high end major label stuff, but perhaps a bit more contrived overall.
     
  11. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    James Ehnes and Andrew Manze in an up to date modern recording, augmented by 24 bit sound. The Allegro is snappy in overall delivery, first by Manze and his very slightly thin sounding Royal Liverpool Philharmonic - Manze's no Giulini or Karajan, that's for sure - but Ehnes displays wicked good control and sound. He sounds urgent here and there, but never rushed, and he sounds smooth and lovely. Manze, again not leading the most fulsome sounding band, nonetheless leads bracing, energized support for the soloist, bringing the tight tuttis to the fore and backing off for the soloist, just as he should, and perhaps, as a fiddler himself, how he thinks other conductors ought to. Strangely, there's an episodic feel - soloist leads, and then band - but it moves forward and blends together as it should. And the entire Allegro moves forward with a sort of relentlessness yet musically satisfying inertia that finds its closest analog in the Heifetz/Munch recording, without ever sounding as pushed-just-because feel. Ehnes and Manze keep things taut in the Larghetto, which never loses tension while managing to sound lovely, moving, and quite "classical" in demeanor. Nice. The Rondo, unsurprisingly, displays more than a bit of pep, and Ehnes, who always displays very fine upper register control, seems to display just a bit more. Sound is tip-top, though that owes more to be a contemporary recording from Onyx than being 24 bit.
     
  12. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Wolfgang Schneiderhan paired with Eugen Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic. Coming right after Ehnes, one can't help but notice the thinner tone and less awesome command, though Schneiderhan does quite well, thank you. The overall timing is just a hair on the broad side, but at least partly due to Jochum's masterly conducting, it doesn't sound like that. (And dig the perfectly balanced horns in the opening tutti of the Allegro.) Some of the upper register playing can sound too thin after extended stretches, but ultimately it's OK. Scheiderhan uses the Op 61a cadenza re-transcribed to violin, and it's snazzy and virtuosic, and Schneiderhan does a good enough job, but can't match Leonidas Kavakos (more on him forthwith). The Largo slows everything down accordingly, though again Jochum's direction in the tuttis is comparatively more interesting than the soloist's playing a few times, though as the movement progresses, Schneiderhan's playing approaches late-LvB soundworld quality. Nice. He repeats the feat in the Rondo, too, though the movement lacks the last word in pep. Overall, a good version and one that still has decent sonics almost sixty years on.
     
  13. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Vadim Repin and Riccardo Muti with the Wiener Philharmonkier. The duo opt for a broad but not especially slow opener, and Muti starts off with a fairly lush tutti that doesn't sound worlds apart from Fluffy, though Muti keeps things more classical in feeling. Repin enters and slows things down immediately, and he plays with a gorgeous tone. And superb dynamic control. He sort of seems to be playing a romantic fantasy, and some of his upper register playing wanders off into introspective whispers and violin noodling, but it's really hard not to just love it. (And who can resist the viola playing Muti gets out of the Vienna band?) Repin more than a few times lets his playing almost recede into the background, to wonderful effect. He plays the cadenza with an effortlessness that beguiles, and his double stops sound as sumptuous as anything else in the recording. The Larghetto sounds even more beautiful, with Repin's tone so beautiful, his playing so sensitive and nuanced and even gentle, that one just sits enamored. The ten minute timing demonstrates again how mere timings can't completely convey the overall impact; at times Repin suspends times, making it fade into oblivion, a trick I fancy, but he doesn't drag anything out. Muti's accompaniment is as good as one would expect from a man who has made such a large part of his career letting others shine. Repin nearly performs magic in the Rondo. His playing sparkles, he plays with a perfect dancing rhythm, yet he never sees a need to go too fast (though he never plays too slow), and he's content to play lower in volume, aided by the recorded balance to be sure, and the whole thing just sounds fun and light and almost otherworldly. Among modern recordings, it's the polar opposite of James Ehnes. But this merely demonstrates why it is mandatory for avid listeners to listen to multiple versions of great works, so as to hear quite different yet equally compelling takes. No doubt some people may find this recording too laid back. Not me. It's a masterpiece.
     
  14. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Takako Nishizaki and Kenneth Jean with the Slovak Philharmonic. (So geographically close to a great orchestra . . .) A couple minor recorded balance issues aside, the orchestral opening is fine, and Nishizaki's entrance is delicate and beautiful. She's no barnstormer, and she clearly does not generate a big sound like, say, Zukerman, but that's OK, because as she continues on in her comfortably paced Allegro ma non troppo, it turns out that a gentler Beethoven concerto has its attractions. Her tone and style seem better suited to modern instrument chamber ensemble, but it works here. After playing a nice but hardly dazzling cadenza and wrapping up the first movement, the performance moves to the Larghetto which is the heart of the work here. Not overdone in terms of romanticism, it is precisely Nishizaki's small, elegant, gentle sound that carries the movement and the work. It's not barnstorming Beethoven, nor is it background Beethoven. It's, well, it's feminine Beethoven, and I rather like it. YMMV. The Presto reprises the overall mien of the opening movement, with just a smidge more pep, and closes out a coherent conception, if not a top five choice. It's nice to have.
     
  15. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Furtwängler with the Philharmonia. Here's another recording I'd not listened to since sometimes in the noughties. Menuhin's playing has never really clicked with me, and revisiting both reminds me of why. To be sure, Furtwängler opens with a tutti that sounds grand AF, as one expects, and he never abandons that style. Menuhin enters sounding much better than, say, Stern, and he plays nicely enough. But here's the thing, when following something as well played as what Repin offers, or as commanding as Ehnes, or even Milstein, Menuhin doesn't offer any deep insights, and his playing never sounds quite as secure as those three, to name just three. The Larghetto sounds nice enough, and while not particularly slow, it just doesn't seem to do much. The Rondo is somewhat relaxed and fun, but it is basically Furtwängler's show. The whole recording is. I wish it was more than a meh, but it's not.
     
  16. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    I'm mortified to report that until this survey, I did not own Hilary Hahn's recording with David Zinman. I just don't know what to write. Zinman opens the Allegro at a nice clip, boldly, but ultimately tight, crisp, and classical. Hahn, as expected, seems to more less dash it off, and she keeps things fairly light and classical. It's basically Mozart on steroids. And that's just fine, because when she dashes off the cadenza like it ain't nothin', it's real-deal hypervirtuosity married to proper musical vision. (I've seen her play both the Tchaikovsky and Nielsen in person, and anyone who doubts she can play at least as well in person as on this disc needs to hear her in person.) Given the violinist's approach, the Larghetto doesn't veer into romanticism, which is not to say that Hahn's playing lacks expression, it's just more tightly controlled. Zinman underscores a few items in the accompaniment to great effect, and then the duo close out with a Rondo that fairly dances along, and sometimes it's as zippy as anything Heifetz or Milstein might dare. And dig the detail in the winds! Yep, it's a corker. With Hahn, it's just a matter of whether she's one of the best or the best. Here it's a top ten contender.
     
  17. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Sticking with Zinman for stick waving duties, the soloist is swapped out for Christian Tetzlaff in one of the more remarkable super-budget releases out there. The Allegro is zippy at under 23', and Zinman sounds similar in approach, though the Zurich band sounds leaner than the Baltimore one. That suits Tetzlaff's lean, clean sound. Of course he plays with exactitude and control and a precise if cool sound. He pushes forward constantly, too, which Zinman matches, with beefier timps and a feeling that borders on relentless, with a martial, march-like cadence to some playing. If Hahn/Zinman is Mozart of steroids, Tetzlaff/Zinman is Mozart on steroids, HGH, and some forbidding stimulants. Zinman opts for an augmented 61a cadenza with lots of taut timp playing, and yes Tetzlaff delivers a predictably fine supervirtuosic take. After the hard-charging opener, the Larghetto is more relaxed, but only marginally, since it comes in under 9'. It's taut and unsentimental and while lovely, it's also a touch stern. The Rondo is quick and taut, though it sounds faster than its timing suggests. Tetzlaff again delivers tip-top-shelf playing, and Zinman keeps up in every regard. While I very much appreciate what Tetzlaff does, it almost seems too much. It's like a more flexible, yet also more stern, more sober Heifetz that's far too serious for anything like flash.
     
  18. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Sticking with Tetzlaff for violin, but swapping in Robin Ticciati and the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. the band opens forcefully and without any unforced errors, and the Tetzlaff enters with a sort of executive perfection and detachment that is something to hear. It's austere as austere can be, all about supreme execution in every facet of playing, but it lacks feeling. While the overall timing falls on the zippy side, Tetzlaff somehow manages to slow down time while playing. It may have too much surface perfection, as if to turn the music into a museum piece, but even more than with artists like Steven Osborne. The band offers a massive, modern wallop in the tuttis, aided by stellar sound. If that makes it seem like I dislike the Allegro ma non troppo, the opposite is the case. This is the archetype for a perfect, modern conception, which Tetzlaff reinforces with his perfect to a fault cadenza. In the Larghetto, Tetzlaff again sounds slower than he plays and he achieves something that some great interpreters do in the Adagio of 106 by creating an ice cold, almost desolate sound at times, though here one marvels at just how perfectly he controls pianissimo playing more than the loud stuff. Then, seeming to offer as much contrast as possible, Tetzlaff and Ticciati deliver an almost ridiculously fast and precise Rondo, with Tetzlaff going all virtuoso and rips through the music, with the band following in suit. Absolutely superb.
     
  19. Todd A

    Todd A pfm Member

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    Aaron Rosand and Derrick Inouye (?) and the Monte Carlo Philharmonic. One of the swiftest Allegros in the survey nonetheless doesn't sound rushed at all. Rather, the tuttis sound comfortable. Rosand even more so. In rather stark contrast to both Heifetz and Tetzlaff, Rosand plays quickly but keeps things light and flowing and just more pleasant, which is not to say soft or wimpy. His tone sounds most appealing, too, and some of his ascending passages sound just nifty, though of the earthy rather than ethereal sort. I definitely mean that as mere comment, not criticism. True, the orchestra doesn't offer the luster of more famous bands, and the recording, while good, wasn't late 90s SOTA, lacking especially in satisfying dynamic range, but everything works well enough. The cadenzas are nicely done, but rather than blow the listener away with pyrotechnics, Rosand delivers something more human and direct. The Larghetto likewise comes in at a brisk 9'05", but it never remotely sounds too fast. There's a sense of comfort in the playing, somehow. It's unique among the versions in this survey. Sure, it lacks the deepest depths, again going for something more earthy, but that's OK. The Rondo finishes things off in quick, light, snappy, fun fashion. It delights. Ultimately, this recording doesn't have the polish or ravishing beauty or ideal mix of soloist and orchestra of the best versions, but it's maybe the best of the second fiddle versions.
     
  20. k90tour

    k90tour pfm Member

    So far, it's A S Mutter for me. Not that I've heard that many. The evenness of the broken octaves and the entries. Everyone else plays them as if they were flourishes
     

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