Charles-Auguste de BÉRIOT (1802-1870)
Solo Violin Music - Volume 1
Twelve Scènes ou Caprices pour le violon Op.109 [37:44]
Nine Studies [20:45]
Prélude ou Improvisation Op.Posth. [9:25]
Bella Hristova (violin)
rec. St John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, 12-15 February 2009
NAXOS 8.572267 [68:02]

De Bériot’s Scènes ou Caprices pour le violon are no mere practice room staple. They’re written in an easy-going narrative or pictorial way, with descriptive titles to titillate the imagination. Thus stimulated the ear latches onto the marches or genial alacrity with which he presents the pieces, laced as they are with considerable, though not officiously Paganinian, difficulty.

But they do serve both the recital and study rooms quite well, albeit it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have heard any of the caprices on stage. I’m not aware that many, if any, were recorded even in the days of LPs. All this makes a budget price CD entrant all the more welcome, especially when Bella Hristova, Bulgarian born and American resident, plays with such surety, tonal sensitivity and technical polish.

The narrative musical devices are augmented by Paganini-derived gymnastics, though the stretches and wrist-grazing pyrotechnics of the great violinist-composer are not really central to Bériot’s plan. So we have a genial Polka and a strongly Paganinian ethos in Le Lézard. The fifth Caprice, La Fougue, is particularly demanding, its March themes having to survive strong left and right hand co-ordination issues. Then there are the tricky triplets in Le Caprice which Hristova negotiates with panache. I was especially taken by the silvery refinement she brings to La Reine which she characterises most adeptly, its arpeggiated chords holding no problems for her. The Marche russe is something of a pretext for fast double stops whilst the agitated chording of L’Inquiétude lead on to a becalmed and lyric B section, also well done.

The Nine Studies are in general a touch more compact, and eschew descriptive titles. But there are discernable features that add significantly to the pleasure of these rather more pedagogic pieces. Note the hunting motifs in No.3 for instance or the light melancholia of the Largo fifth. Then there’s the lightly pomposo March elements of the seventh or the fugal byplay of the final Study, In imitation of the old masters. The final item is a compendium of Bériot’s virtuosic devices, the Prélude ou Improvisation, which was published posthumously.

Strong advocacy is needed for solo works such as these to come over well, and that quality is certainly in evidence. The recording venue is a familiar one to Naxos auditors, and it works as well for the solo violin as it did for, say, solo lute. It has a pleasing but not engulfing acoustic and echo. 

Jonathan Woolf