Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806). Cadenzas by Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) [44:28]
Gidon Kremer (violin)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
rec. December 1980, London
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802064 [44:28]

At forty-four minutes this re-issue by Newton Classics offers short measure but its appeal is specific: it is purely for those who want the young Kremer playing five cadenzas in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto written specifically for him between 1975 and 1977 by his friend Alfred Schnittke.

I will be plain: I do not like them at all; the wrenching disjuncture between Schnittke’s modernist idiom and the original work for me makes a nonsense of the enterprise. The cadenza for the first movement begins promisingly enough with a variation on the drum-tap figure and the introduction of timpani, an idea obviously inspired by Beethoven’s own innovation right at the start of the concerto. The cadenza making the transition between the Larghetto and the Finale is traditional and unobjectionable, but the subsequent introduction and synthesis of themes from violin concertos by Bartók, Berg, Shostakovich and Brahms is plain gimmicky. The cadenza for the finale employs a striking but wholly incongruous device (and here I quote from Anthony Burton’s notes): … “the soloist’s rising sequence of trills is imitated by ten orchestral violinists, each starting just after the one before, to create a buzzing cloud of sound. A repeated drum-tap D runs through this in the solo part, and persists as a discordant addition after the re-entry of the orchestra – Schnittke’s only encroachment on Beethoven’s score.” This is all of a piece with Schnittke’s theory of “polystylism” which proclaims the essential unity of musical idioms across the centuries. To which I say, “Yuk”; I’ll stick with cadenzas by Kreisler and Milstein.

Otherwise, this is a light, attractively played account. Kremer is not as fiery as he would become; here he plays with restraint and suavity. He is not, however, as sweet and refined of tone as Krebbers for Haitink, nor has he Milstein’s pure, singing lyricism. He is matched by Marriner’s elegant direction of an orchestra of fewer strings and closer in sound to what Beethoven would have envisaged and heard. This is a gentle, appealing version but certainly nothing to get excited about, especially if you don’t want Schnittke’s contribution.

The sound is very good: balanced and warm – typical of Philips’ recording of the era.

Ralph Moore

A light, attractively played account but those incongruous Schnittke cadenzas!