Gidon Kremer, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner
Recorded - London, 12/1980
This recording of one of Beethoven's most melodious scores has been a favorite of mine since it first appeared in vinyl many years ago. It has long been superseded in popularity perhaps even critical acclaim by Kremer's later, grander, more conventional effort with Harnoncourt conducting on Teldec. Philips, to my knowledge, never saw fit to re-issue it on CD; it is now beind done so, under license by Arkiv, though preserving the Philips artwork but not the notes. The sound retains the warmth and clarity of the original, bright early-digital recording.
What makes this recording so special? It is lyrically conceived from the first note to the last. Kremer, ably supported by Neville Marriner and the ASMF, are not out to dazzle but to engage. The scale is intimate, the tone is bright and serene, blissful when the violin part ascends into the stratosphere. And then there are the miraculous Schnittke cadenzas. Imagine yourself seated in a very familiar, comfortable room, decorated to your pleasure. Imagine lifting yourself out of your body and looking at it from an entirely different perspective, with all the furniture and bric-a-brac placed where you would least expect it, but nonetheless there, so that enchantingly displaced, you are never dispossed. The vision lingers for a while but miraculously everything falls back in place, you are back in your body, curiously refreshed, comfortable in familiar surroundings. Surprisingly, you were never afraid. This is one way of describing the cadenzas Alfred Schnittke wrote for this concerto and (if my recollection is correct.... again no notes.....) for Kremer, an unstinting advocate of his music. The sound of the cadenzas is simultaneously incongruous and firmly rooted in Beethoven. At times violin is punctuated by tympani, in recollection of the opening bars of the concerto. How the last movement cadenza modulates into the finale is magical.
So, this is a precious recording indeed. Perhaps as an introduction to the piece, the later Kremer, with cadenzas by the violinist himself (based on Beethoven's less successful piano version of the concerto), might be a more appropriate venue. Or for the historically minded, the 1934 Bronislaw Huberman with George Szell conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (cadenzas by Joachim?). But Kremer/Marriner is not a recording to by skipped by lover of the piece, the violin, or the soloist. I am very happy it is now on CD and next to my several other versions of the work.
========= from the cover ==========
Violin Concerto in D
Beethoven wrote his violin concerto in 1806, at the age of 36, soon after the Fourth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto. It was no coincidence that these works share an unprecedented mellowness, warmth, and inner composure. Having more or less reconciled himself to the tragedy of deafness, he was living through a comparatively tranquil and rewarding period in his affairs of the heart as well as enjoying the close friendship of such loyal music-lovers and patrons as Stephan von Breuning, to whom the concerto is dedicated, and of artists like Franz Clement, the 26-year-old Viennese violinist and Konzertmeister, who having helped with details of figuration and layout in the solo part, was entrusted with the premiere on December 23, 1806. Inexplicable as the work's initial lukewarm reception still seems today, it is nevertheless pertinent to recall that last-minute completion allowed Clement no time to study the score in depth. He was also required to play the first and the last two movements in different halves of the concert, with a group of pot-boiler violin solos in between.
All the leading themes of the Allegro ma non troppo are first introduced by the orchestra, which having warmed to an expansive tutti, withdraws in a sudden reverential hush for the imposing, ascending octave entry of the soloist. Both main first and second subjects are benignly lyrical, born for the violin to sing, yet inviting infinite embroidery from it when handed back to the orchestra as the argument unfolds. Of the several subsidiary motifs contributing to the movement's symphonic breadth, none is more important than the opening phrase of four reiterated drum-taps which Beethoven transforms with breathtakingly romantic effect. Even in the tenth bar it recurs on a daring D sharp in direct contradiction of the music's D major tonality. The composer himself supplied no full-scale cadenza - here or elsewhere: those played by Gidon Kremer on this recording are by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, who teaches at the Moscow Conservatory.
The Larghetto, too, is music of radiant inner calm, concealing not only profound intensity but also an uncommonly subtle adaptation of variation form beneath its outward simplicity. The main 10-bar theme in G, first introduced by muted strings, is repeated in different instrumental colourings under delicate violin embroidery. After this decorative start the soloist then introduces a second theme in G that comes near to speech in its intimate eloquence while approaching a sublimity beyond words. Both themes return in yet new guises before an unexpected fortissimo outburst derived from the first seems to presage a stormy finale. But no. After the briefest cadenza (this time by Kremer himself the soloist is up and away with one of the most salubriously good-humoured and virile rondo themes in all music. The movement's form is that of a sonata-rondo, with an engaging central episode in G minor bringing forward the bassoon as duettist with the violin. The final cadenza is followed by a totally unpredictable coda, in which after a teasing recall of the main theme in the remote key of A flat Beethoven invites the oboe to share in its re-establishment in D before the rollicking home-coming.
- Joan Chissell (1981)