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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Konzertstück in C, WoO 5 (orch. Juan MANÉN (1883 - 1971) (1929)) (1787) [20:25]
Grosse Fuge in B♭, op.133 (orch. Felix WEINGARTNER (1863-1942) (1906)) (1825/1826) [19:11]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) 10 Waltzes for string orchestra (1897?) [16:19]
Wrocławer Chamber Orchestra/Ernst Kovacic (violin)
rec 17-20 November 2008, Jan Kaczmarek Concert Hall of Radio Wrocław. DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 145-2 [56:05]

Experience Classicsonline

I find myself sometimes wondering if completing, or otherwise bringing to a performing state, an incomplete work by one of the masters is such a good idea. Here is a case in point. Beethoven had attempted a Violin Concerto about six years before his acknowledged opus 1 and this manuscript is held in the archive of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. A comparison of this manuscript with another, contemporary, manuscript has confirmed the authenticity of this Konzertstück - as what is available of the Concerto. The booklet tells us that Juan Manén “edited and completed this fragmentary work in 1929. This was possible because the formal framework of the piece is recognisably that of a sonata form with development and recapitulation”. What the notes don’t tell you is that it’s a pretty empty piece, showing nothing of the Beethoven we know and not even pointing the way to his official opus 1. I can fully understand why Manén would want to complete this piece - he was a virtuoso violinist and the idea of having another, fairly major, work by the master was probably too much for him to resist. You might have heard this piece for there are four other versions currently available - by Patricia Kopatchinskaya on Naïve, Gidon Kremer on Galleria, Marco Rogliano on Bongiovanni and Karl Suske on Berlin Classics - which, on the strength of what I have heard here is five recordings too many! With my hand on my heart I cannot say that it is a piece I would ever want to hear, let alone have a recording of it and want to hear a second time. It is weak, inconsequential and negligible. If you’re desperately in need of owning recordings of all Beethoven’s music then you’ll have to have it, otherwise forget it.

The Grosse Fuge is one of Beethoven’s late masterpieces. It’s wild and impassioned and a real showcase for any string orchestra in this excellent arrangement by Weingartner. Unfortunately the performances of both these pieces, although obviously well worked out and performed, are just too polite - the Grosse Fuge, in particular, is quite apologetic in its outlook instead of fierce and defiant.

Schoenberg’s 10 Waltzes were written for a string orchestra called Polihymnia, an organisation with which he was associated in his youth. It is not known if Polihymnia ever performed this piece and the première is thought to have taken place at the 2004 Salzburg Festival, one year after its publication. All the pieces are pretty little things which say nothing but fill the short playing time (the durations of the pieces range from 1:13 to 2:33) most pleasingly. The performance of this piece is identical to the performances of the Beethoven works but here it is well suited to the music.

The recording is nice and clear. The, obviously small, string orchestra is placed at a slight distance so the sound can grow without overpowering the microphones. But with such trivial works the best recorded sound in the work isn’t going to make them any more attractive or, indeed, any more interesting. There are more important works, and better performances of more important music, by both composers which deserve a place in your collection.

Bob Briggs  

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