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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Charles Auguste de BÉRIOT (1802-1870)
Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op.16 Military
Allegro moderato
Concerto No. 8 in D Major, Op.99
Allegro maestoso
Andantino Rondo
Concerto No. 9 in A Minor, Op.104
Allegro maestoso
Adagio
Rondo: Allegretto moderato
Takako Nishizaki (violin) RTBF
Orchestra/Alfred Walter
Rec. Maison de la Radio, Brussels, 1986
MARCO POLO 8.220440 [50.05]


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These concertos by Bériot are little known and the catalogue entries show only two chamber pieces and a Scène de Ballet in addition to this Marco Polo release. This fact should not put off the disc collector from exploring the fresh and engaging style of this Belgium virtuoso composer. Two of the concertos are short at around 13 minutes when compared with the 25-30 minutes of Mozart/Tchaikovsky standards. If Bériot's other concertos are of similar short duration one wonders if this is the reason why we do not hear of them in the concert hall since engaging a soloist for such short programme items would be uneconomic. We are not told why these particular concertos were chosen for the recording: certainly they have much appeal and are well worth a listening. The brilliant violinist, Takako Nishizaki, needs no introduction to collectors of the Marco Polo label.

Charles-Auguste Bériot was born in Louvain, Belgium in 1802. He was to become one of the most distinguished violinists of the Belgian school having played a Viotti concerto in public at the age of nine. After the early death of his parents in 1812 he became the ward of his teacher Jean-François Tiby.

Bériot took lessons from André Robberechts, a pupil of Viotti, and in 1821 played for Viotti in Paris. (In 1819 Viotti had taken up the position of director of the Paris Opera.) He was advised by the master to try to perfect his style, to listen to all talented players but to imitate none – counsel that he appears to have accepted. Bériot took lessons from Baillot, who had for some years been teaching at the Conservatoire.

By 1824, Bériot had embarked on a career as a virtuoso that brought him the title of Chamber-violinist to King Charles X (1826) and thereafter the position of violinist to King William I of the Netherlands. His meeting with the distinguished soprano Maria Malibran lead to a partnership with her and finally to marriage. Maria Malibran, however, died unexpectedly in Manchester in 1836 shortly after their marriage, yet a few years later Heine was to observe that the soul of Malibran continued to sing through the melting, sweet tones of her husband's violin.

Bériot's concert tours with Malibran had up to now been chiefly in Italy and England. In 1838 he toured Austria and appeared in the major cities of Germany with the pianist Thalberg. Then in 1843 he accepted the position of principal professor of the violin at the Conservatoire in Brussels where he was offered the succession to Baillot, but failing eye-sight was to lead to Bériot's resignation from the Conservatoire in 1852. He continued to give concerts, however, until paralysis of the left arm in 1866 put an end to his career.

Bériot's compositions include 15 sets of variations for violin and piano, ten violin concertos, some 50 duets and studies which continue to serve their original pedagogical purpose. As a teacher and player he lifted the Franco-Belgian school of violin-playing to its zenith.

The Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major was first performed by the composer on Christmas Day, 1829. The work was dedicated to Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians. In one movement, the concerto provides an example of Bériot 's early debt to Paganini in a score that demands technical virtuosity, particularly in the use of left-hand pizzicato. The work is seductively operatic in melodic invention, reminding us of the contemporary comparison of Bériot to Bellini. The notes tell us that it was originally written for a violin tuned a semitone higher, enabling the soloist to finger in the key of D while the orchestra played in the key of E flat.

The Concerto No. 8 in D Major was written in 1855 and published in the following with a dedication to the Prince Nikolai Yusupov, an amateur Russian violinist and composer. The work exemplifies yet again Bériot's absorption of contemporary styles of display and taste in melody and melodic decoration. The concerto ends with a finale of spirited energy that runs on from the slow movement.

The Violin Concerto No.9 in A was dedicated to the Princess Tatiana Yusupov. Like the sixth and seventh concertos, the ninth is in three movement, each played in succession without a break. It demonstrates the facility of Bériot's writing for the operatic elegance and fluency of style.

Surprisingly the CD notes omit a biography of Takako Nishizaki who is a particularly experienced and accomplished violinist: she provides a bright and energetic performance of the three works. It should be mentioned that her father was co-founder of the Suzuki Method and Takako was in fact one of the first students to complete a Suzuki course. She has a close association with Naxos and has made other Marco Polo/Naxos recordings.

Alfred Walter was born in Bohemia of Austrian parents, is a specialist in German music and has conducted regularly in European countries. He became principal conductor of the RTBF Orchestra in 1984 and occupied the post when this recording was made. Here he directs with understanding, sensitivity and feeling to maximise sensual impact from the scores.

The recording is well balanced with the violin forwardly placed to maximise the gifted playing and good tone of the instrument. The orchestra's support with warm ambience is delightful. The notes give more than adequate detail on the composer but less so on the works. They are provided in English only.

Raymond J Walker


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