Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 [44:34]
Erich KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 [26:06]
Renaud Capuçon (violin)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, Netherlands, July 2009
VIRGIN CLASSICS 694589 0 [70:45]

For different reasons both Capuçon and Nézet-Séguin are currently men of the moment. This well-played disc shows off their extrovert musical intelligence very well, though the Korngold is notably more successful than the Beethoven.

Korngold seems to be everywhere these days, with a few successful recordings of his concerto having appeared within the last few months. This is worthy to set alongside them. Capuçon’s livewire exuberance is well suited to the heart-on-sleeve character of the work. He hurls himself with abandon into the surging main theme of the first movement, revelling in the overt sentimentalism. He is buoyed up by the accompaniment of the orchestra, the textures coloured by the composer’s use of the celesta and subtle percussion. The high jinx of the finale are right up Capuçon’s street and his development, if it can be called that, of the main theme lightens the mood and carries the work to a wonderfully irreverent final cadence. The slow movement is perhaps the highlight of the disc, a blissfully rhapsodic journey through another world with the violin accompanied by the ethereal glow of the shimmering orchestra.

Next to this Capuçon’s Beethoven is more four-square and predictable, but I still found it enjoyable. Nézet-Séguin’s chief concern here is an unfailing smoothness which, in some respects, makes Beethoven’s music seem more comfortable than it really is. This works well for the serenity of, say, the Larghetto or the first movement coda, but less so for the endlessly insistent 5-note rhythm that dominates the first movement which feels somewhat emasculated. Furthermore, the balance favours the soloist rather too much so that the orchestral climaxes can sound underwhelming. I can live with this in the slow movement, however, as it makes the soloist’s counter-melody shine with uncanny radiance, even if it is a little artificial. The pace of the finale works well too and I left feeling that while this reading may not knock any others off their perch it will do nicely as one to come back to from time to time.

All told, the finest thing about this disc is the Rotterdam Orchestra, who distinguish themselves again and again, not just in the Korngold but also in moments such as the beginning of the first movement development in the Beethoven: the orchestral violins’ accompaniment to the main theme sounds almost like an engine revving, which I found surprisingly exhilarating. A disc worth exploring, especially if you want the Korngold.

Simon Thompson