This is volume
7 of a series of Beethoven’s complete orchestral works. Volume
3 featured these performers in Piano Concertos 1 and 2, Volume
5 in Piano Concerto 3 and the Triple Concerto. The present
disc is distinctive in that it couples with Piano Concerto
4 Beethoven’s transcription for piano of his Violin Concerto.
This was made at the request of Clementi, a fellow composer
and pianist as well as a publisher. Three questions arise.
1. How different is this transcription from the original?
2. What difference does the change of solo instrument make?
3. Does it work? Read on …
First, Piano Concerto
4. Recently I reviewed Rudolf Buchbinder’s recording (see review).
This may suitably be compared to Berezovsky’s as Buchbinder also
uses a chamber orchestra. From the opening solo there’s more spring
here. The orchestral introduction takes up this spring and is
lighter, subtler, the thinking as it were more in paragraphs than
sentences. Yet texture and presentation of themes are extremely
clear. This suggests to have a sympathetic conductor, like Dausgaard,
is better than Buchbinder’s going it alone.
more tonal and rhythmic contrast, probably easier in a studio
than concert situation yet managed without any apparent loss
of immediacy. So, for example, there’s more playfulness to
the repeat of the second theme (tr. 1 4:33). The orchestra
shows more character and humour in its delivery of the themes.
There’s more variation in the piano solo. The beginning of
the development (from 7:12) has more of a toying, musing quality
about it. Later there’s a magical further softening of already
pianissimo focus (8:54) as the sequence moves a notch, then
a gossamer delicacy about the pianissimo playing after the
return of the first theme (from 9:56).
But I wasn’t ever
conscious of virtuosity, as in Buchbinder’s bravura display.
From Berezovsky there’s an engaging identification with and
expression of the music which is highly varied and inventive;
perhaps overmuch for some tastes, but masterly. Berezovsky,
like Buchbinder, plays Beethoven’s longer cadenza, but with
more flair in contrasting its deliberate and volatile aspects
and a softer rhythmic insistency. It begins fiery and becomes
more internalized, then revealing greater variety of mood
finely realize the slow movement’s contrasting worlds. Dausgaard’s
orchestral contribution is crisper and more peremptory, if
not as blustering and gruff as Buchbinder’s. Berezovsky’s
piano counters by a stately, impassive calm, the closing cantilena
naturally evolving, its jagged elements still a surprise,
showing the conflict before the calm.
of the rondo finale is more playful, festive and mercurial
than Buchbinder’s physicality. Dausgaard’s orchestral comments
have a sprightly robustness and even a sense of audacity about
them, so you notice for example the cut and thrust (tr. 3
4:15) between the three appearances of the rising two chords
in the piano’s left hand and the pizzicato strings’ feathery
falling two chords. The second (that is episode) theme is
always treated gently by both, making an especially satisfying
contrast of velvety delicacy in the cadenza (7:48) after Berezovsky
has first mirrored the orchestra’s vigour.
This Simax recording
balances the piano prominently but naturally for collaboration
with the orchestra, so it emerges in relation to the orchestral
focus rather than, as Buchbinder’s piano, dominating it by
To turn now to
the Piano Concerto in D major, Op.61a. There’s a difference
from the Violin Concerto origin right from the opening. It’s
still gentle and smiling in this performance but there’s also
an eager rhythmic insistency, especially that four note motto
on the timpani. With good reason. The transcription differs
in its extra features. I’d estimate about 90 per cent of the
notes played by the violin are present and the orchestration
is unchanged. But while there are no Violin Concerto cadenzas
by Beethoven, for the piano transcription he provides four.
The most striking is the expansive roller-coaster one in the
first movement (tr. 4 15:22 to 19:56). After a robust version
of the first theme there’s a much freer section which Berezovsky
conveys as an energized whirling giddiness. Then the drums
join in. Do you find anywhere before this, or in Beethoven,
a cadenza with timpani accompaniment? Piano and timpani create
a triumphant march. Both have hot solo passages, the piano’s
more extended, like a fantasia on the four note motto. After
this the coda with orchestra is especially calm and chastened.
In the mean-time
the second theme (1:17) has been an assured parade, with the
piano later calmly floating around its orchestral presentation
with lovely upper register touch from Berezovsky, phrases
tailing off and the more clouded material poetically realized.
The orchestral version of the timpani motto has bite without
The piano part
is subtly varied from the violin at times, as suitable to
its different strengths. For instance from 5:28 to 5:36 the
left hand doubles the cellos and basses line, from 9:04 the
bassoon. At 6:20 and 6:23 there are flourishes added where
the violin just has trills. At 12:02 the piano has trills
where the violin has sustained notes. The piano melody isn’t
always maintained in the same register as the violin, for
example for the progress of the new theme (9:49) in the development.
The overall effect is to create a solo part of greater fluidity.
The slow movement
finds Berezovsky and Dausgaard gently insistent, their phrasing
as tender as the melodic line. The main theme is a melting
clarinet then warm bassoon solo with piano extemporizing around.
However, the piano gets to present the theme in the middle
section (tr. 5 4:23) where Berezovsky is movingly controlled
yet flowing. From 5:13 there’s an ingenious addition to the
original violin material: an Alberti bass style backing, but
very much in the upper range of the left hand.
The cadenza in
this movement (from 8:16) is a stormy version and expansion
of the opening theme, followed by a speculative exploration
which gradually transforms into the third movement rondo.
This procedure of creating a finale theme by degrees from
the slow movement is familiar in the Emperor piano concerto,
but here the cadenza is the starting line.
The piano begins
the rondo finale impishly while the orchestra’s repeat of
the theme relishes its syncopations. It’s a joy about this
performance that, whether presenting or accompanying, Dausgaard
always finds the right weight, deftly marking without overdoing
the crescendos. This is rhythmic weight rather than ghetto
blasting sonority. At the second appearance of the theme the
piano adds decorations to the repeated phrases (e.g. tr. 6
0:18, 0:23), adding to the lightheartedness. Yet the second
episode (from 3:18) is creamily mysterious, with a lovely
lightness of touch from Berezovsky and a superb, beaming bassoon.
There’s a brief cadenza at the pause early in the finale (from
2:06). The closing cadenza (from 6:43) has a barnstorming
start and fireworks galore.
So how does this
compare with the original Violin Concerto? I listened to the
even more historically informed, period instrument 1997 account
by Thomas Zehetmair with the Orchestra of the 18th
Century/Frans Brüggen (Philips 4621232). Brüggen’s orchestra
has a similar bite to Dausgaard’s but rather more crafted
beauty of contrast. His first movement second theme has more
bounce and urgency and the later loud orchestral responses
are more blazing. I prefer Dausgaard’s quieter resilience.
The violin’s role
as soloist is sweeter and more sustained than the piano, but
the contrast of piano against strings when Berezovsky takes
up the second theme, especially its recapitulation (tr. 4
12:49) is greater and for me more pleasing than that of violin
against other strings. There’s a sense of intelligent discourse
about the whole Zehetmair interpretation yet his violin is
a little more dominant in relation to the orchestra than Berezovsky’s
plays cadenzas by Wolfgang Schneiderhan which appear to be
violin transcriptions of Beethoven’s cadenzas for piano, even
including the timpani accompaniment. Zehetmair plays these
with great bravura but they are not quite idiomatic, largely
because the violinist can’t get around the notes so quickly,
therefore the quicksilver runs don’t have the piano’s vertiginous
In the slow movement
Bruggen doesn’t achieve as restful an opening as Dausgaard
but the violin solos are more ethereal than the piano. Zehetmair’s
cadenza is rather histrionic, lacking the coaxing transition
to the finale which Berezovsky achieves. The finale’s rondo
theme is at first more reflectively treated by Zehetmair,
but Brüggen’s orchestra is more heavyweight and romantic than
Dausgaard’s classical yet sunny restraint.
In the final analysis
I’d say the violin for which the work was originally conceived
engages the attention on a more personal level, but the piano
brings a more clinical slant on the work, with more of a sense
of observation than experience. The fascination lies in becoming
aware, through comparison, of Beethoven’s creative processes
in making this adaptation, particularly in the cadenzas. The
commission unlocked for Beethoven potential in the work and
allowed him to realize it. This recording allows us to hear
it convincingly. It does work. It’s not preferable to the
original violin version but it is a viable alternative. Part
of the reason why, however, is because Beethoven concerto
playing today doesn’t get any better than this.