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Charles-Auguste de BÉRIOT (1802-1870)
Violin Concerto No 1 in D major Op 16 Military (1829)
Violin Concerto No 8 in D major Op 99 (1855)
Violin Concerto No 9 in A minor Op 104 (1858)
Takako Nishizaki (violin)
RTBF Symphony Orchestra, Brussels/Alfred Walter
Recorded Maison de la Radio, Brussels, July 1986
NAXOS 8.555104 [49.52]


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Virtuoso, composer, teacher and Royal Violinist de Bériot was one of the progenitors of the Franco-Belgian school. Once popular but now neglected his studies have been used as pedagogic material by generations of aspiring students who also played the graceful concertos as an entrée into the concert world. Though the virtuosic element in his works is pronounced – left hand pizzicati, treacherous harmonics and some scordatura (the First Concerto for example was originally intended for a violin tuned a semitone higher) – de Bériot’s primary gift was lyrical. He was hardly a Romantic avant la lettre because the First Concerto was published in 1829 but he did anticipate certain elements of Mendelssohnian Romanticism – the linked movement for example – even if the level of his works falls well short of the far greater composer.

These three Concertos date from 1829-1858. The First and Ninth are congenial and compact, the former in one movement, the latter in the accustomed three. The Eighth Concerto is the most substantial and is in three movements, played without a break. Dedicated to Leopold I, first King of the Belgians, the First, known as the Military, opens in the style of an operatic paraphrase with considerable elegance and some discursive technical demands. It expands to take in a stout cymbal accented episode, the solo violin supported by operatically expectant strings. The violin expounds on some lyrical lower string moments – de Bériot exploiting registral plangency with accustomed familiarity – before a mildly Paganinian conclusion, with rollicking left hand pizzicati. It’s difficult to maintain absolute integrity of intonation here. At twelve minutes this is, in the classical sense, a concerto of course but might better be thought of as a rather scenic Concertante piece or a Konzertstück.

The Eighth Concerto, de Bériot’s Opus 99, is again in D major and a more obviously mature example. The flute makes its presence felt, nicely blending with the solo violin (good balancing by player, conductor and engineer). The solo line itself is attractively lyric but somewhat unvaried and undifferentiated. It develops a (albeit rather repetitious) winningly robust impress though in this performance the conclusion to the Allegro maestoso sounds a bit undernourished. It could certainly go with greater conviction. The long lined expressive material of the Andantino with its descending motifs sets the stage for some operatic delicacy before a boisterous Rondo finale – full of avuncular certainty. The Ninth followed soon after but is less satisfying. The first movement is over before you notice it and the main weight falls on the Adagio. This is strongly reverential without becoming unduly emotive, little right hand roulades giving distinctive technical interest. The orchestration here is deliberately reduced.

Nishizaki deals with most of the technical flourishes with elegant aplomb. Once or twice I felt a lack of weight in the tuttis and a feeling that not enough is made of de Bériot’s orchestral curve. But these are adept performances of works that are more than of mere antiquarian interest. They certainly deserve their place in the history of the early Romantic Violin Concerto.

Jonathan Woolf


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