Sunday, April 26, 2020

Beethoven 250: Violin Concerto (Itzhak Perlman, 1980)

Julius Schmid (1854–1934): Beethoven beim Spaziergang in der Natur / Der einsame Meister.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven. Performers: various artists including: Artemis Quartet, Daniel Barenboim, Rudolf Buchbinder, Renaud Capuçon, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Otto Klemperer, Stephen Kovacevich, Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Jacqueline du Pré, András Schiff, János Starker, Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
    "Jubiläums-Edition zum 250. Geburtstag im Deluxe-Packaging mit umfangreichem Begleitmaterial."
    "Doing full justice to Beethoven’s awe-inspiring, but profoundly humane genius, this is Warner Classics’ first-ever complete edition of his works. It draws discerningly on the riches of the label’s catalogue, assuring integrity by assigning entire cycles to the same artist, ensemble or team of performers. Classics from the age of the LP are complemented by the best of the CD era and by a wealth of new recordings of rarely heard works that are ripe for discovery. This is a comprehensive and deeply satisfying tribute to Beethoven, a transformative force who has enhanced the lives of music-lovers for more than two centuries.".
    Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited.
    Compilation producer and editorial: Ray Granlund.
    Editorial assistant: Xenia Evans.
    Mastering: Isabelle Davy - Circé Studios, Paris.
    Graphic design: WLP, Ltd.
    An emphasis on complete cycles by a specific artist, ensemble or team of musicians. A particular feature of the box is continuity of the interpreter(s) throughout an entire cycle of works in the same musical genre / related genres.
    Some 300 tracks specially recorded for the box. These specially recorded tracks mostly comprise rarely heard works that are waiting to be discovered by a broader body of listeners. In the main these are piano works, choral works and songs.
    Booklet note by David Wyn Jones.
    The CD covers carry evocative paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Josef Anton Koch and other German and Austrian artists of Beethoven’s time.
    Also available on Spotify etc.
    I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

CD 10/80:
Opus 61: Konzert für Violine und Orchester in D-Dur (1806) – Kadenzen: Fritz Kreisler
    Itzhak Perlman (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra / Carlo Maria Giulini, 1980
Opus 40: Romanze für Violine und Orchester in G-Dur (1802)
    Itzhak Perlman (violin), Berliner Philharmoniker / Daniel Barenboim, 1986 live
Opus 50: Romanze für Violine und Orchester in F-Dur (1798)
    Itzhak Perlman (violin), Berliner Philharmoniker / Daniel Barenboim, 1986 live
WoO 5: Konzert für Violine und Orchester in C-Dur (Fragment) (1790–92)
   Sergiu Luca (violin), The Rochester Philharmonic / David Zinman, 1981

WoO = Werk ohne Opusnummer.

AA: I am listening to the CD's in the Warner Classics Beethoven box set in numerical order, and it turns out to be a splendid idea, because the collection has been curated to be listened in that way. First the symphonies and the piano concertos, then the violin concerto. In each format Beethoven was groundbreaking, and all who followed could benefit and be inspired: not to copy Beethoven, but follow the personal calling of one's own. Beethoven was a great liberator.

I confess that the Violin Concerto was the composition I was most looking forward to, for personal reasons. It was the composition that woke me up to music in a profound sense when I first heard it as a child while lying in a fever. For the first time I felt the full impact of a long format composition. I learned it by heart and listened to it in my mind.

The Violin Concerto was a swashbuckling adventure story like the novels by Alexandre Dumas that I had been reading or the films starring Errol Flynn such as The Adventures of Robin Hood. But it was also a space odyssey in which even the sky was not the limit. And a deep diving trek to the bottom of the ocean, to the Mariana Trench. It was both breathtaking and disciplined. The fundamental difference to my boyhood favourites was of course that Beethoven presents an adventure story of the mind, an ordeal of the spirit, a musical Bildungsroman, like the Wilhelm Meister cycle of novels that Goethe was creating during the same decades.

Thanks to the curatorship by Ray Granlund we have by now heard on the previous CD's Beethoven's piano arrangement of the concerto and Itzhak Perlman's appearance as the violinist of the Triple Concerto.

On this CD the Violin Concerto is followed by Beethoven's two violin romances whose affinities with the concerto are obvious. They may be the most wonderful confessions of love in the history of music. With them Beethoven was also a founder of a new genre. Itzhak Perlman plays them with pure, lyrical and sincere conviction. The interpretation is sober and classical.

There is also a fragment of the young Beethoven's first attempt at a violin concerto, composed 16 years earlier, played by Sergiu Luca. It is a pleasant and competent exercise in the classical mode, but there is nothing unforgettable about it.

Itzhak Perlman's interpretation of the Violin Concerto appears regularly on the lists of the greatest recordings of the composition. Made in 1980, it was the first recording of the Violin Concerto that was released digitally. It has great discipline and clarity, and perhaps a careful approach was selected because of the pioneering digital circumstances. But Perlman also dares to be overwhelming and heartbreaking, evoking distant echoes of unspeakable tragedy. This is not a case of Romanticism anti-romanticized.

I can't help myself that in my memory I keep returning to my first love, the 1952 recording of the Violin Concerto by Ruggiero Ricci and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult. A music connoisseur would probably detect many drawbacks in the recording, just like Ricci himself later did. But in the 1960s he also fondly remembered the circumstances at the time when a musician needed to have a repertory of not more than ten compositions at a time. It was a more relaxed period, and a musician could live the drama of the composition more totally, with his full being. I'll never forget the bravado, the swashbuckling spirit, the sense of danger, the joy of plunging into chaos and making order into it in a way where we can identify with the exaltation of a demiurge.


In many sources the story circulates that the first performance of the Violin Concerto was unsuccessful and for that reason it fell into oblivion for decades. Actually it had a wonderful reception (a rave review by the critic Möser in Wiener Theater-Zeitung, 8 Jan 1807 can be read online) but the "inner adventure" was felt too daunting for the violinists of the time.

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