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Dip Your Ears, No. 50 (Zehetmair's Beethoven)

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Violin Concerto, Romances,
T.Zehetmair / F.Brüggen / Orchestra of the 18th Century

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Violin Concerto, Romances,
T.Zehetmair / F.Brüggen / Orchestra of the 18th Century
re-issue on Decca

There are some works that are undisputed members of the classical music pantheon that I just don’t quite appreciate at the level I feel I should. Apart from the perennial struggle with Verdi, three of these works are by Beethoven. They are his Missa Solemnis, his Fidelio, and his violin concerto. Strike the latter off that list.

I’ve liked recordings of this work (Milstein, Grumiaux), I’ve appreciated others (Hahn, Znaider, Oistrakh), and I’ve found others, still, wanting (Mutter, Perlman). But unlike the other “Concerto against the Violin,” the Brahms, I’ve never loved this one - nor felt, rather than understood, its greatness.

All awhile I have often read the remark that a new recording of the Beethoven concerto was good – but would not supplant Thomas Zehetmair’s in the estimation of the reviewer. Eager to explore if there was anything to that claim, I snagged the recording (for a long time not readily available in the U.S.) the second I saw it at the local store. The overused cliché of “hearing a work as if for the first time” must be used. Actually, I immediately felt like I remember feeling when I first listened to Beethoven as a little kid. A large part of that experience is the excellent, brilliant sound that was captured on this live recording. That, and Frans Brüggen’s Orchestra of the 18th Century which plays (vibrato free) with such gusto and force, with such heft (listen to the timpani rolling into your room threateningly) one moment and then with the most subtle delicacy the next, that the experience of listening to this concerto becomes eerily visceral.

Enter Zehetmair (with vibrato and playing the Beethoven-Schneiderhan cadenzas) in the Violin Concerto and the two Romances. He does play with some vibrato, he’s fast but never rushed, and he’s fresh and energetic. The communication between orchestra and violin seems symbiotic, the execution is flawless. The word “fresh” is the one that wants to insert itself in every sentence describing the performance… to me, it feels like a crisp, perfect Sunday family breakfast in the mansion. Whatever it may ‘feel’ like to you, be assured this recording is not just marginally better or different than others, it is, in the most literal meaning of the word, outstanding. Do try and hear for yourself!

Philips 02894621232


Anonymous said...

I didn’t have a chance to listen to this recording of Thomas Zehemair (who is currently a music director of the Northern Sinfonia and regarded as an inspirational conductor and one of the most significant violinists of his generation). His own Zehetmair Quartet has recorded string quartets by Hartmann, Bartok and Schumann on the ECM New Series. My personal favorite is his Schumann CD.

Michael Pakaluk said...

I've just listened to Zehetmair's Brahms concerto- excellent and reminds me of an historic BBC recording of Menuhin during WWII.