Author Topic: Op 61  (Read 1363 times)

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Offline Todd

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Op 61
« on: November 15, 2020, 06:57:21 AM »
For this Beethoven year, I decided to systematically listen to all recordings of the Violin Concerto in my collection and to snap up some recordings that I had, inexplicably given my collecting proclivities, not yet acquired.  This is not Lou's best concerto effort (that's the Emperor), nor is it the pinnacle of the Violin Concerto repertoire (that would be the Sibelius), but it's pretty nifty, and in a great performance, it's a crackerjack work.  Now, starting in on this shootout, I'll just mention that my long-standing favorite is from the incomparable Ferras/Fluffy pairing, so that will come last, to hear if it holds up. 




I started with one of the first recordings of the work I heard: Isaac Stern paired with Leonard Bernstein.  In the Allegro ma non troppo, Bernstein and the New Yorkers start things off nicely, with decent weight and admirable control, with Lenny opting for sensible tempi.  Stern sounds fairly light, small, and thin, and Lenny scales back for him.  A couple obvious edits pop out, as one expects with this violinist, and the cadenza is slow, weak, at times unsteady, and boring.  The aged sound cannot be avoided, and in the tuttis one can hear increased hiss level, at least in The Bernstein Edition release, indicating some mixing desk tomfoolery.  In the Larghetto, Lenny and crew again lay down fine support, and Stern fares comparatively better here.  The movement is small of scale and leisurely, and sounds reasonably nice, I guess.  The famous duo close out with a Rondo of more or less sufficient pep, though again Stern sort of bores, though his cadenza, very obviously pasted together from multiple sessions and with obvious level manipulation, is a bit better than in the opening movement.  A good amount goes missing.  One good thing about shootouts is that one can root out duds.  I will never listen to this recording again. 
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Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2020, 07:22:45 AM »
To me this is Beethoven's greatest concerto. I have quite a few recordings of it beginning with Heifetz / Munch which I bought as a teenager and which still serves as a benchmark. However, there are other ways of doing it. One point is, however, that the opening movement must not be too slow. It is allegro ma non troppo not andante as some read it. Unless there is that basic fairly swift tempo Beethoven's intentions are lost. Apparently Fritz Clement who premiered the work hardly had any time to prepare it but he had a light, silvery tone. I have come across this performance by Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Philippe Herreweghe which I find most interesting. Alas, does not seem to be available on CD at the moment apart from at inflated prices!

https://youtu.be/xr9KmgDFwMc

Offline The new erato

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2020, 07:51:18 AM »
The pinnacle is Brahms.  ;)

Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2020, 09:42:42 AM »

Offline Florestan

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #4 on: November 15, 2020, 09:56:25 AM »
Quote from: Joseph Joachim
The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s.
“Especially as far as I am concerned, romanticism is not the bloodless intellectual commitment to a program, but the expression of my most profound mind and soul.” --- Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952)

Offline Jo498

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #5 on: November 15, 2020, 01:15:19 PM »
Mendelssohn is the most successful in not turning a concerto into a quasi-symphony but still retaining a certain symphonic scope and seriousness. Beethoven and Brahms are a bit too symphonic but the latter is still my favorite (I think I prefer all Beethoven concertos except the Triple (although this one is underrated) to his violin concerto.)
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Brian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2020, 02:20:09 PM »
I even prefer the triple concerto to the violin concerto, the blasphemy  ??? Part of the problem with the concerto for me is performance based, as I think many 21st-century performers expand its pastoral lyricism in an attempt to make it profound rather than just pretty. A lot of times that means molasses-slow, unbalanced with all the weight in the first movement.

But part of the problem is...I just don't like the violin writing? Like it feels to me as if it's in the wrong key and needs to be transposed. Or even rewritten for cello or something. A lot of the violin part in the first movement just sounds "wrong" to my inner ear, for no good reason. The last two movements are better.

Anyway, I'll follow along as usual, it's just my second-least-favorite LvB concerto behind PC2.

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #7 on: November 15, 2020, 03:39:24 PM »
Anyway, I'll follow along as usual, it's just my second-least-favorite LvB concerto behind PC2.


Oof.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

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Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #8 on: November 15, 2020, 11:07:31 PM »
I even prefer the triple concerto to the violin concerto, the blasphemy  ??? Part of the problem with the concerto for me is performance based, as I think many 21st-century performers expand its pastoral lyricism in an attempt to make it profound rather than just pretty. A lot of times that means molasses-slow, unbalanced with all the weight in the first movement.

But part of the problem is...I just don't like the violin writing? Like it feels to me as if it's in the wrong key and needs to be transposed. Or even rewritten for cello or something. A lot of the violin part in the first movement just sounds "wrong" to my inner ear, for no good reason. The last two movements are better.

Anyway, I'll follow along as usual, it's just my second-least-favorite LvB concerto behind PC2.

Your problem appears to be when the violinist takes the wrong tempo and sets too slow a tempo for the first movement. I’d refer you to the recordings by Heifitz or Faust. If the violin writing feels wrong you might check your inner ear, of course!  :D

Offline Jo498

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2020, 12:37:14 AM »
Of the recordings I have heard Zehetmair/Brüggen has the most "march-like" first movement, almost overdoing it in the direction opposite from usual. But it is actually a rather rhythm-centered movement. One of the core components are the drum beats (not only in the timpani) that also show an irregular phrase rhythm and are often couple with a dissonance that was rather jarring back then.

I generally think that a "symphonic violin concerto" is extremely difficult to pull off in the classico-romantic style. The symphonic aspect tends to dominate or it just tends to become overlong and rambling (Elgar, Reger...) OTOH the pure virtuoso concerti tend to become trashy. Mendelssohn really hit the golden mean for me. (Another concerto I am very fond of is the SaintSaens b minor that used to be more popular, his others are not as good, though. Neither are Bruch 2+3) I usually prefer Bach, Mozart 3 and 5 or 20th century violin concerti. (Not to deny that on the level of Beethoven or Brahms a not superlative piece with some flaws can still be extremely good.)
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline amw

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2020, 01:06:50 AM »
Sorry no!  :)
It’s obviously the Dvořák, come on guys.

I also have problems with the violin writing in this piece—not sure what exactly is going on with it, Beethoven generally understands how to write for violin, I guess in this piece he was just worried about balance problems (especially with his hearing starting to go so he was less confident about working them out practically) and decided the entire thing has to be played on the E string. But he also seems to forget how bowing works at a few points. It’s almost but not quite as awkward to play as most of his piano music, which at least in that case we can blame Beethoven’s idiosyncratic piano technique.

I do still enjoy the piece but the best part is honestly the cadenza he wrote for the piano version (& then adapted to the violin version). Which I guess again does suggest that his problem was trying to figure out how best to combine a violin with an orchestra.

Offline Jo498

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2020, 01:23:38 AM »
Yes, the Dvorak VC is quite underrated (whereas I cannot go along with the newfound niche fandom of the Schumann, that piece was treated overly harsh in the past but I also find it rather unattractive).

I have heard one (albeit amateur) violinist claim that Beethoven's sonatas were often also awkward to play. I have no clue about string writing or playing but I prefer most of Beethoven's violin chamber music to the violin concerto (partly due to general preferences I hinted at above). Even the deaf Beethoven wrote ravishingly beautiful violin soli like in the Benedictus or some late SQ passages.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #12 on: November 16, 2020, 01:53:08 AM »
Must confess I cannot believe some of these comments about the Beethoven violin concerto. If you have 'problems with the violin writing in this piece' maybe they might be your own? To me it is the most sublime work ever written in this form.

Offline amw

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #13 on: November 16, 2020, 02:07:30 AM »
To be fair these are also problems I’ve heard from (professional) violinists, who describe the piece as awkward to play. Beethoven’s piano music is also awkward and sometimes painful to play. This is not to say his music isn’t very enjoyable to listen to for many people, but it’s certainly not perfect, at least from the perspective of pure craftsmanship.

The only composer who turned in technical perfection on a consistent basis is Mozart; maybe also Machaut, Palestrina & Ravel. But perfection isn’t what people listen for, generally.

Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #14 on: November 16, 2020, 02:19:43 AM »
To be fair these are also problems I’ve heard from (professional) violinists, who describe the piece as awkward to play. Beethoven’s piano music is also awkward and sometimes painful to play. This is not to say his music isn’t very enjoyable to listen to for many people, but it’s certainly not perfect, at least from the perspective of pure craftsmanship.

The only composer who turned in technical perfection on a consistent basis is Mozart; maybe also Machaut, Palestrina & Ravel. But perfection isn’t what people listen for, generally.

Peter Gutmann puts these interesting comments together:

"Well beyond its sheer scope Beethoven’s concerto was revolutionary, albeit in a rather discreet way. Stowell credits it with being far removed from the conception of Beethoven’s contemporaries, replacing their formal freedom with a tightly-knit symphonic structure in which the soloist becomes a commentator upon and embellisher of the orchestral themes and statements. Paul Henry Lang adds that this melding of styles saved the further development of the concerto from becoming a mere pretext for exhibitions of virtuosity. Rather, Boris Schwartz states that Beethoven transformed the idiomatic features of the decorative French style from simple technical displays into the enhancement of profound ideas. Barry Cooper adds that the themes are symphonic in the sense of relating to the opening motif and creating a sense not only of symphonic breadth but cohesion and development. Anthony Hopkins posits a psychological dimension – unlike a symphony, a concerto contains a subtle suggestion that something is missing and so the soloist assumes the role of a hero to triumph over the orchestral gaps and thus earns our identification. David Johnson notes one further precedent – by pouring himself into a single violin concerto, Beethoven set a trend. Thus while Mozart and Haydn each wrote multiple violin concertos (not to mention Vivaldi, who wrote hundreds), after Beethoven, with very few exceptions, major composers contented themselves with only one – consider: Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Sibelius, Nielsen, Stravinsky, Berg, Schoenberg, Barber … ."

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #15 on: November 16, 2020, 05:41:32 AM »


Next up, Nathan Milstein with William Steinberg leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  Steinberg leads a peppier and tighter orchestral opening, and Milstein's playing, while perhaps a touch more wiry than sweet, is orders of magnitude better than Stern's from the first note on.  And the fiddler's tone turns sweet enough, with Milstein sort of effortlessly cruising along throughout.  Steinberg's support really is quite superb, energetic and weighty and proper middle period Beethoven sounding.  Milstein of course plays his own cadenzas, and fine ones they are, especially when he soars into the high registers, spins off double stops like they ain't nothing, and sort of just plays with high end playing that is not a pyrotechnical display because it needn't be one.  In the Larghetto, Milstein ramps up the tonal allure even more, while Steinberg leads robust accompaniment in the tuttis, offering a nice contrast to the soloist.  When supporting the soloist, the conductor cedes all glory to Milstein, which is only right.  The Rondo is springy, buoyant, beautiful fun, where the violinist charms as he gleefully romps through the score.  Everything about this recording stomps all over the Stern/Bernstein one.  Even the mono sound is a step up sonically. 
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Offline Brian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #16 on: November 16, 2020, 06:19:31 AM »
Your problem appears to be when the violinist takes the wrong tempo and sets too slow a tempo for the first movement. I’d refer you to the recordings by Heifitz or Faust. If the violin writing feels wrong you might check your inner ear, of course!  :D
I like Faust and Zehetmair/Bruggen is probably the best I've heard for my own eccentric taste. Coincidentally, Milstein/Steinberg is the first recording I ever heard and my "imprint", which might also explain some things. I grew so accustomed to Milstein's cadenzas that the Beethoven versions were a big surprise to me.

As usual, amw's comments are really illuminating and kind of help me understand myself better. Thanks, amw!

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2020, 05:54:25 AM »


Next up, Shlomo Mintz and Giuseppe Sinopoli.  Taking about four minutes longer than Milstein in the opener, the piece is much more leisurely, with Sinopoli offering a sumptuous sound, and Mintz himself is in no hurry at his first appearance.  Or his second.  Or ever, really.  When the violin part soars to the upper registers, Mintz takes his sweet, languid time.  He even does so in the cadenza.  The Larghetto keeps up the slowness, and tips right into saccharine and nearly gloppy playing.  Scratch the word nearly.  But it's gloppy in a beautiful and appealing way.  The Rondo sounds a bit broad, but also more conventional, if the last bit of oomph and drive goes missing.  But this set isn't about that at all.  The whole thing sort of makes the listener feel naughty, listening to something so indulgent; it's the music equivalent of eating a ridiculously rich, heavy, gooey lava cake injected with way too much high cocoa butter content milk chocolate.  You shouldn't like it, it's bad, but dammit, you know it's good.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline Todd

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #18 on: November 18, 2020, 05:40:57 AM »


Perlman and Giulini.  The Allegro ma non troppo comes in at over 24', but Giulini was the master of perfect slow or slow-ish tempi.  No dragging, mushy indulgence here.  No, here is grand, serious, weighty Beethoven of an overall caliber impossible to surpass.  Perlman in his 30s was in fine fettle with his fiddle and his playing is every bit as serious as Giulini's conducting.  Not a note is out of place, nothing is rushed, but there is no strain or challenge, either.  In the Larghetto, Perlman plays a bit quicker than Mintz did, and the effect of soloist and band and approach yields a more serious, more poetic approach, though not one so OTT.  The Rondo finds Perlman dashing off his part with a most satisfying ease and nonchalance, without sounding as overtly virtuosic as Milstein most of the time, and then more so in the flashiest writing.  Overall, a rock-solid version.

The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline Handelian

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Re: Op 61
« Reply #19 on: November 18, 2020, 09:05:30 AM »


Perlman and Giulini.  The Allegro ma non troppo comes in at over 24', but Giulini was the master of perfect slow or slow-ish tempi.  No dragging, mushy indulgence here.  No, here is grand, serious, weighty Beethoven of an overall caliber impossible to surpass.  Perlman in his 30s was in fine fettle with his fiddle and his playing is every bit as serious as Giulini's conducting.  Not a note is out of place, nothing is rushed, but there is no strain or challenge, either.  In the Larghetto, Perlman plays a bit quicker than Mintz did, and the effect of soloist and band and approach yields a more serious, more poetic approach, though not one so OTT.  The Rondo finds Perlman dashing off his part with a most satisfying ease and nonchalance, without sounding as overtly virtuosic as Milstein most of the time, and then more so in the flashiest writing.  Overall, a rock-solid version.

First movement is just too slow for Beethoven’s concept in my opinion