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Charles-Auguste De BÉRIOT (1802-1870)
Violin Concerto No. 7 in G major, Op. 73 (1851) [20:53]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 32 (1841) [31:56]
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, Op. 46 (1844) [11:47]
Laurent Albrecht Breuninger (violin)
Northwest German Philharmonic/Frank Beermann
rec. Herford, Schützenhof, October 2004
CPO 777 167-2 [64:29] 


This is beautiful music. So why don't we hear it more frequently? Bert Hagels, in his program note, suggests a shift in nineteenth-century concert programming away from virtuoso works, intended primarily to exploit the technical capacities of the violin (or the violinist), to abstract concerti by non-violinists; he specifically cites Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms as favored composers. The explanation makes sense, and would seem to hold true today: among composers of the virtuoso persuasion, only Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski - along with Paganini, the pioneer of the genre - have kept a tenacious, if tenuous, hold on the repertory. On the evidence of this program, Bériot's melodic, richly colored concerti deserve at least as much respect, and exposure, as any pieces by those composers.

Paganini's influence is marked in Bériot's early B minor concerto, notably in the sharply etched, "Classical" rhythmic outlines of the first movement's rigorous opening ritornello, and the showy fireworks that it sets off. The central Andantino has an appealing, bittersweet lyricism, saved from mawkishness by touches of pungent instrumental color. The concluding Rondo russe, while not a Gypsy dance movement as such, has the sort of syncopated lilt associated with such movements.

In the D minor concerto, the composer attempts an integrated one-movement form with some success. The orchestral introduction doesn't suggest a condensed structure: the orchestra offers the conventional two themes, respectively forceful and lyrical, before the soloist takes them up. Instead of proceeding to the expected development section, however, the music subsides into a calming cantabile intermezzo, followed by a full recapitulation of the second theme and a coda. It's all quite accomplished, and despite the piece's relative brevity - it's just eleven-minutes-and-change in duration - the musical argument doesn't require further amplification.

The G major concerto of seven years later reverts to a standard three-movement pattern, but by now Bériot has come into his own as a melodist. The short-winded motifs of Paganini and his followers have been replaced by long, surging phrases that unfold in broad arcs to span the bars. More than once as I listened, the heady swellings of Lalo's Roi d'Ys overture came to mind. This score, at least, should appeal to modern, sophisticated audiences. 

Laurent Albrecht Breuninger is a persuasive advocate for these scores. In the slow movements and equivalents, he phrases the arching melodies sensitively, playing with an understated vibrancy. His intonation and tone in the display passages are acceptable rather than breathtaking most of the time, though he nails the most important moments - exposed leaps and such - with thrilling accuracy. The Northwest German Philharmonic under Beermann provide a colorful, musically understanding backdrop, though the resonant bassi, more Germanic than Gallic, underscore the foreshadowing of the French post-Wagnerians. Gorgeous sound reproduction completes the package.

Stephen Francis Vasta



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