> Beethoven - Sibelius [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Op.61)
London Philharmonic Orchestra (Op.47)
Daniel Barenboim
Recorded 1977 (Op.61) 1975 (Op. 47) ADD
ELOQUENCE DG 457 294-2 [77.41] Super-budget


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Both these concertos are amongst the most popular in the repertoire, and are also amongst the most frequently recorded. But, perhaps surprisingly, discs of them coupled together are relatively rare, so this inexpensive re-issue is very welcome, particularly given the extremely persuasive performances and generous playing time.

Zukerman had recorded the Beethoven previously, with Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (not a version I know), but this 1977 recording has long been a mainstay of lower-priced recommendations. Itís easy to see why. This is a typically muscular, big-boned performance, with the soloist producing a seamless flow of rich, full tone. He is matched perfectly by Barenboimís accompaniment, which similarly treats the work as the first great Romantic violin concerto. The opening of the piece gives a good idea of the general approach; the wonderfully hushed timpani strokes are steady and mysterious, creating an atmosphere out of which the first subject can then float ethereally. At the first big tutti, Barenboim encourages the orchestra to play in long, arched phrases that remind one of Fürtwängler (one of Barenboimís avowed influences), and throughout the performance one is made aware of architecture as much as detail. The sublime second subject is beautifully phrased by the Chicago oboist, and the sheer scope of this massive (25 minute) first movement is altogether effectively realized. The slow movement suits Zukerman and Barenboimís approach perfectly, and the sonorous beauty of the violin tone is well matched by the orchestral support. The rondo finale, one of Beethovenís finest inspirations, might gain something with a bit more bounce and rhythmic vitality (as Hilary Hahn gives it in her highly recommendable version on Sony), but nevertheless, the sheer weight of tone and quality of the playing easily compensate.

The Sibelius is, if anything, even finer. The dolce ed espressivo opening is wonderfully phrased, with the rocking quaver figuration on strings creating a real backdrop of awe and mystery. Tempo is crucial in Sibelius, and Barenboimís steady speed pays real dividends; being able to think in long, arched paragraphs makes more sense of the composerís harmonic scheme, and when the Allegro molto breaks in (around 5.41) there is a real exhilaration that is all the more effective. Zukermanís handling of the cadenza (7.43) is exemplary, with Barenboim keeping the long B flat pedal suitably hushed. The slow movement highlights the excellent playing of the LPOís wind section, the opening clarinet and oboe thirds marvellously phrased. The big climax (6.25) has a massive, granite quality that is very moving. The finale has the violinist tearing into his energico solo line like a man possessed, and again the huge orchestral tuttis are very imposing in Barenboimís hands.

As you may have guessed, I loved this disc. Though he has his detractors, Barenboim has done many fine things as a conductor, and I have not heard any better modern version of either piece. You will undoubtedly get different sorts of insights from different players, but Zukerman gives as intelligent and musical a performance of both these great concertos as we have a right to expect. Recordings are top-drawer, with a weight and amplitude that suits the interpretations to perfection. The liner notes are paltry, which is a pity, as most of these cheap re-issues are surely aimed at new collectors who need plenty of information. Still, the musicís the thing, so if you fancy this coupling, donít hesitate.

Tony Haywood

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