Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 (1804, original version after the autograph) [44:13]
Franz Alexander PÖSSINGER (1767-1827)
Violin Concerto in G, Op. 9 (1805) [17:45]
Anton Steck (violin)
L’arpa festante/Matthew Halls
rec. Martinskirche Müllheim, Germany, May 2016
ACCENT ACC24320 [62:01]
Two World Premiere recordings here: in the case of the Beethoven, the world premiere recording based on the original version “after the autograph”. The two versions printed in Beethoven’s lifetime (1808 Vienna and 1810, London) were both based on a revised solo part (when compared to the autograph, housed in the Austrian National Library). Also, the composer offered a selection of “ossias” in his original autograph (sometimes up to four alternatives for the same passage). This recording is an attempt to clear up the score utilizing in particular Volume Ten of the Beethoven-Gesamtausgabe. If this was given a “blind” listen, one wonders how many people would notice too much, though: differences exist, but they are small in the grand scale of things. The title of the booklet essay is “viewed in a completely different light,” which seems a little ambitious.
So it is really on the performance itself that this disc must be judged, not on any special musicological platform. Performing on original instruments, the period instrument group L’arpa festante provides a nice and dramatic orchestral exposition. The sound is deliberately impactful (some might say rough). Phrases, unfortunately, can be rather predictably pear-shaped. Anton Steck’s ruminative first entry sets out the stall, his sound wiry like an athlete and sweet up top (he plays on a 1701 Alessandro Gagliano). The development is fabulous; both Steck and the orchestra truly seek out the mystery here. The cadenza is by Steck himself and is long and investigative. The opening of the Larghetto is infinitely tender, and given at near-inaudible levels with a level of concentration to match. Special mention to the clarinetist, who phrases beautifully, almost as if singing an aria. Steck’s “comments” around the line have a lovely off-the-cuff feel about them. There is an interpolated cadenza between the second and third movements, delicate and clearly challenging for the performer. The light textures of the orchestra in the finale, plus the sterling recording, allow for the bassoon contributions to come through easily and convincingly. The cadenza in the finale is superb, light and rhythmic yet simultaneously a tour-de-force.
The inclusion of the far shorter concerto by Pössinger reflects the fact that that composer seems to have been involved in the revisions of the Beethoven. A friend of Beethoven’s, Pössinger worked with Beethoven on the editing of some of his output. There appear to be arrangements by Pössinger of themes from Mozart’s Figaro and Don Giovanni for two violins. The concerto recorded here is delightful, and some gestures (try the orchestral passage immediately preceding the entrance of the solo violin) are distinctly Beethovenian. Musicologist Hans-Werner Küthen has suggested that Pössinger’s concerto provided the impetus for Beethoven’s. The strength of this concerto is its concise nature. Steck’s sweet high register is once more used to good effect in the first movement, while the orchestra’s finely sprung way with rhythms provides an involving experience. The dramatic opening to the central Adagio is really quite arresting while the bouncy finale showcases Steck’s fine upper register once more.
Steck’s credentials in historical performance are exemplary: he has led groups such as Les Musiciens du Louvre, Concerto Köln and Musica Antiqua Köln, for example. He is Professor of Baroque Violin at Trossingen, Germany. Here, he offers a most refreshing take on a well-known favourite, while piquing one’s interest in the coupling. Recommended.