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Ludwin van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61 (1806) [42:56]
Violin Romance in G major, op. 40 (1802) [5:50]
Violin Romance in F major, op. 50 (c. 1792-1805) [7:38]
Lena Neudauer (violin)
Cappella Aquileia/Marcus Bosch
rec. 2018, Congress Centrum Heidenheim, Germany
CPO 777 559-2 [56:26]

The Beethoven Violin Concerto stands at the centre of the repertoire, with countless recordings in the catalogue over many years. It is pointless to claim any special pleading that the significance of any new recording is greater than its predecessors, as reviewers are sometimes wont to do. Better to listen and appreciate the merits of what is on offer, since any performance by talented artists will have its own merits and context.

One of the strengths of Lena Neudauer’s new recording is her close collaboration with Marcus Bosch and the Cappella Aquileia, a German ensemble that specialises in the classical and early romantic eras. The scale and balance are admirable in accommodating the nature of Beethoven’s vision in a concerto that, when it was new, was years ahead of its time. In fact, it was only the advocacy of later violinists, and in particular Joseph Joachim, that established its centrality in the concerto literature.

In this regard, an interesting feature is the role and nature of the concerto’s cadenza. Its first soloist, Franz Clement, improvised his own while including party tricks like holding the instrument upside down. The ’standard Beethoven cadenza’ was written for the composer’s own piano adaptation of the score, replete with obbligato timpani (though CPO do not tell us this). There are countless published alternatives, for example by Joachim, Fritz Kreisler, Ferdinand David, Henryk Wieniawski and Alfred Schnittke, to name just a few. There also is a fascinating disc (Biddulph LAW 017) on which Ruggiero Ricci performs the concerto with the option of no fewer than fourteen different cadenzas.

The concerto’s sheer scale is one the challenges. Neudauer takes a pretty standard 42 minutes. That reflects the fact that its ambition made it half as long again as its predecessors, and that the quasi-symphonic concentration of the music is uppermost among the challenges it brings. This is where Neudauer’s collaboration with Bosch and the orchestra comes into its own. She is helped by the recorded sound, which allows details like the first movement’s obstinately memorable timpani rhythm to come into their own.

The lyrical line of the central Larghetto allow a soloist to create a pleasing sound. Intonation is a priority, and this is a test that Neudauer passes with aplomb. Then the finale’s rythmic rondo theme takes the music forward with a sense of purpose which is not without a heroic aspect.

The coupling, the two Violin Romances, is a useful and interesting one. Both these charming pieces have their mysteries, and the vagaries of publication is another example of the wrong order (as it is with Chopin’s piano concertos). The most likely reason for the creation of the F major Romance would seem to have been to provide a slow movement for a concerto. This would likely have been a C major composition from around the time Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna in 1792. The piece, an impressive torso of a concerto, was only published in 1805, a few years after its fellow G major Romance.

The couplings of the Violin Concerto are many and varied, and may influence choices in this competitive market. The two Romances offer a satisfying solution to the conundrum, while useful alternatives might be the concertos of Mendelssohn (Monica Huggett, CFP), Berg (Isabelle Faust, Harmonia Mundi), Sibelius (Christian Tetzlaff, Ondine), Brahms (Ginette Neveu, SWR), Bruch (Arthur Grumiaux, Pentatone). Some violinists, such as Gidon Kremer on Philips and Itzhak Perlman on Warner Classics, offer just Beethoven. For a personal favourite, I find none better than Wolfgang Schneiderhan, coupled with Mozart on DGG, or with the Egmont Overture and Brahms’s Third Violin Sonata on BBC Legends. The list could go on and on. Even so, Lena Neudauer’s performance will give much satisfaction to the discerning listener.

Terry Barfoot

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