Beethoven, cadenzas Jorg Widmann
Violin Concerto in D
Violin Concerto in C, Wo0 5 (fragment)

Veronika Eberle          Violin
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle         Conductor

LSO Live LSO5094
Full price

Violin Concerto
Violin Concerto

Vilde Frang   Violin
German Chamber Orchestra, Bremen
Pekka Kuuisisto   Conductor

Warner Classics 0190296677403
Full Price

The Review

Both these versions of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto conclude that the traditional way of doing things is not enough – or perhaps the violinists wanted to carve out their own distinctive voices as relatively young, though well established, soloists.

If the intent is to give a fresh prospective then they succeed with flying colours. If it is to provide readings of the concerto to be listened to repeatedly, or as the only ones in a collection, then I am not quite convinced in either case.

Frang and Eberle spot the opportunity to go much further than usual in providing cadenzas. There is no intrinsic harm in this – it is what virtuosi have always done and the cadenza is meant to be the space in the music where the composer allows the soloist to detach from the orchestra and ‘go off on one’ to show their own skill and understanding of the composer’s themes. In this concerto, though, Beethoven had other ideas (or perhaps he was just unimpressed by the genius of the violinists of his time) and wrote out the first movement cadenza as he wanted it to be played.<

Frang agrees to some extent but goes back to the composer’s piano arrangement of the work, then invites the timpanist to interject little bumps and flourishes along the way as a sort of argumentative obbligato while she soars and double-stops for all she’s worth. The result might be to provide a bit more context to the solo line (after all, Mozart wrote accompanied recitatives) but in reality the timpanist, Jonas Krause, is just a distraction. Frang’s playing is quite beguiling enough. The slow movement, where the orchestra is handled with great sensitivity by her fellow violinist, Pekka Kuuisisto, is exemplary, if perhaps a little restrained, as is the rondo finale – but more about that below.

Veronika Eberle goes much further, and has a composer from our own time to provide three cadenzas. Jorg Widmann also adds timpani but throws in a double-bass as well. The result is that Eberle and Rattle take an extra five minutes over Frang and Kuuisisto in the second movement and three in the third. Since the opening movement verges on half an hour anyway this, at fifty-three minutes for the whole work, is too long. Widmann’s cadenzas are, as he intended, effectively a rather harsh contemporary extra chamber work thrown into the mix. In the hall – LSO St. Luke’s in March 2022 – it must have been spellbinding because Eberle draws every last scintilla of expression from the score, with Nigel Thomas (timpani) and Dominik Wagner (double-bass) responding to her with verve – but listening on disc I found my patience wearing thin.

The pairings on each recording have a lot going for them and are chosen with care. Frang chooses the Stravinsky concerto, presumably to stress its neo-classical credentials and inheritance. At the same time she gives the Beethoven a similarly unromantic interpretation. Both are valid but the result is that the Beethoven feels undercooked and the Stravinsky starts to feel more conventional than its spiky rhythms deserve.

The D major concerto is Beethoven’s only extent complete one for violin but he did start another one earlier, when he was still living in Bonn in the 1790s, while Mozart was still alive. Only eight minutes of this survive or have been identified; sadly, because it is rather lovely – firmly part of the Mozartian style but substantial in its own way too. Rattle and Eberle’s intriguing taster should be a catalyst for all librarians and collectors to start scouring their shelves to find the rest.