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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Brana Records

The Beethoven Mysteries
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D major, Opus 61 (transcribed for piano and orchestra by the composer) (1806)
Rondo in B flat major for piano and orchestra, WoO6 (1790?)
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiri Waldhans
Allegro in D major for piano and orchestra (1788?)
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Alberto Zedda
Rec. 1967, Brno (Violin Concerto), Milan (Rondo), Prague (Allegro)
BRANA BR 0004 [68.34]


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One of the most interesting features of a great composer’s art is that no matter how well known it may seem, there is always more to discover. This is true in two ways: each performance of a masterpiece will uncover more of its limitless secrets; and there are many discoveries of less well-known pieces to be made.

The latter contention is the one that operates here, hence the title: The Beethoven Discoveries. A bold title, to be sure, but one that seems justified by the musical content. The programme is dominated by well-known music, but presented in a little known format. In order to develop his own performing repertoire, Beethoven made a piano adaptation of his Violin Concerto, a really bold enterprise since the violin is a legato instrument and the piano a percussive instrument. But if anyone could make it work, Beethoven could.

In fact the music has been recorded before in this version, most notably by Daniel Barenboim (DG), but the disc under review is a reissue of a 1967 performance featuring that fine pianist Felicja Blumental and is a most welcome addition to the catalogue. She is well supported by her conductor, Jiri Waldhans, while the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, also gives a good account of itself, with impressively tight discipline in tutti passages.

If there are doubts they mostly concern the recorded sound. While this is acceptable at a bargain price, it does require some tolerance. As soon as the disc starts to play, there is a background sound like a worn LP, and while this soon becomes less significant, it is because of the quality of the music and the performance rather than because it disappears. Beyond this obvious flaw some of the sound is over-bright, both in the piano part and in the strings, while in the slow movement the woodwind solos are oddly balanced and ‘larger than life’.

If there is a highlight it is probably Blumental’s stunning performance of the first movement cadenza, a new version Beethoven wrote with the addition of timpani. This makes particularly interesting listening, especially when it played with such intensity and gusto as this.

The other items are early efforts that the composer may not have intended for survival; he certainly did not ensure their publication. It was Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny who ‘rescued’ the Rondo in B flat, rescoring some of the string textures in the process, while adding some new high notes to the piano part, because they became available on later instruments whose compass was more extended. The elegance of this attractive piece makes all these issues secondary to the enjoyment the music brings.

The movement from the D major Piano Concerto the young Beethoven composed in Bonn was discovered by Guido Adler in 1888, then amended by various others. The suggestion is that this music was written soon after the young composer’s return in 1787 from his trip to play to Mozart in Vienna. However, it is admitted that the authenticity of the score is not proven. Be that as it may, it makes for interesting listening, though anyone hoping to find an embryonic Emperor Concerto is likely to be disappointed.

Terry Barfoot

 

 



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