Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1797-1828)
Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra, op. 61 [45:33]
Romances for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G, op. 40 [7:56]; No. 2. In F, op. 50 [9:46].
Concerto Movement in C for Violin and Orchestra, Wo05 (fragment) WoO5 [9:00]
Karl Suske (violin)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/ Kurt Masur (concerto) Heinz Bongartz
rec. September, 1987 (concerto); 1971 (remainder)
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300359BC [72:37]
This is just one of a long line of re-releases on Berlin. Conductors represented include Sanderling and Herbig and, as here, Masur. But there are also Max Pommer and Herbert Kegel. The repertoire is mainly standard, though adherents will be delighted to see the Leipzig recordings of music by Paul Dessau directed by Herbig and Kegel, Eisler’s Deutsche Sinfonie (Pommer conducting), recordings by the quartet led by the soloist in the disc under review, Karl Suske, and vocal recitals by Peter Schreier, Gisela May and Hanne-Lore Kuhse.
So, some things worth looking out for. For now the focus is Beethoven, Leipzig, Suske and Masur. The violinist was born in 1934 and has had a long and successful career as one of Europe’s most experienced concertmasters and quartet players. He became leader of the Gewandhaus orchestra in 1977 and he also led the orchestra at the Bayreuth Festival for many years. In some ways he is to Leipzig what Hermann Krebbers was to Amsterdam.
Yet, it is to Krebbers I would turn in performances of the concerto repertoire, if faced with the choice. Suske’s Beethoven is lyrical and his smallish, elegantly sweet tone is finely equalized. He plays in a calmly unruffled way, unhurried but not at all flaccid, though without a great sense of genuine voltage. He prefers, instead, a sense of relaxed grandeur in the first movement, and a warmly textured, prayerful slow movement. Here he is borne on a string cushion fashioned by a master accompanist. Masur brings out some seldom heard voicings, orchestral counter themes and features of the accompanying fabric that more routine conductors would simply not seek to find. Equally, one finds the conductor measuring the music’s harmonic direction with scrupulous care. He provides excellent support for his concertmaster, though not one that goads the soloist to faster speeds or more incisive rhythmic thrust. If one feels at times, especially in the slow movement, that Suske is almost performing an obbligato, then it is testament to his integrity and musical skill, that he nevertheless manages largely to convince one - except perhaps in the rather hidebound and heavy finale.
The ‘fillers’ were recorded earlier under conductor Heinz Bongartz, at a time before Suske had been appointed the first concertmaster of the orchestra. The ubiquitous Romances are played with attention to detail. The Romance in G is particularly successful and nicely coloured. But it’s the last work that will naturally be the main focus; it’s the fragment of the Violin Concerto in C, WoO5. It sounds fully Beethovenian with its strong and long introduction, and its inclination to make life a little awkward for the soloist in his opening salvo. The fragment is nine minutes long. Some musicians have attempted to complete it, but we hear the untouched version, which comes, therefore, to an abrupt stop.
This novelty amplifies and illuminates aspects of the writing for the eventually conceived Concerto. But I doubt you’d be buying this disc for that alone. It’s ancillary to a good, modest, lyrical and likeably nuanced performance of that great work.  

Jonathan Woolf 

A good, modest, lyrical and likeably nuanced performance of that great work