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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, op.61 (1806) [45:27]
Romance for Violin and Orchestra, F major op.50 Nr.2 [9:07]
Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, op.12 Nr.1 [20:28]
Manrico Padovani (violin)
Prager Philharmoniker, Russisches Philharmonisches Orchester Moskau/Boris Perrenoud
Igor Longato (piano)
Rec. 2016/18, St Nicholas Church, Prague (concerto), Radio Studio Moscow (Romance), Centro Culturale Milano (sonata)

Manrico Padovani is not a violinist I have come across before on disc and this is, I believe, his second recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto – different orchestra, same conductor, however. Swiss-Italian by birth, the concertmaster of the Concertgebouw, Herman Krebbers, was his primary teacher – Ruggiero Ricci (presumably from whom his interest in Paganini stemmed, much being made of Padovani being the first Swiss violinist to perform the complete Caprices) and Stockhausen among some of his musical influences.

I have not heard Padovani’s first attempt at the Beethoven, made some time around 2002. Going by this second one, however, it is may not have been a particularly subtle performance of the Beethoven concerto; indeed, this new one seems deliberately to go against everything this concerto ought to be with a very aggressive recording balance (it comes from a live concert) which makes the work sound way beyond the scale one might normally expect. And it isn’t just old fashioned, it grandstands too. Turn the volume any more than halfway up and you are in danger of damaging your eardrums. Padovani is quite dramatically placed very forward; but then, that’s hardly surprising given the level of vanity this project seems to have, this being rather more about the soloist than Beethoven. Padovani does not have the most ingratiating of tones, nor the most delicate vibrato, either. Lines are not exactly clean with some, frankly, lazy bowing (especially from 6:02 in the Rondo) and the cadenza in the final movement is not a very fine example of Beethovenian finesse. He’s a little better in the first cadenza, but the whole performance reminds me of an ageing soprano getting through Tristan und Isolde just to reach the Liebestod only to find they can’t hit the last note.

A lot of Beethoven performances have passed through my CD player recently – particularly superb ones by Daniel Lozakovich, Gil Shaham and the incomparable Christian Ferras and Leonid Kogan – and, unfortunately, the shortcomings of Padovani’s playing are even more amplified. It would certainly be unfair to suggest that all of this performance is weak. Despite the sound continuing to slap you in the face, the ‘Larghetto’ has its moments but Padovani’s tone still isn’t particularly pure, and it’s a little too measured; almost a minute beyond the ten-minute mark in this movement can make a real difference with a violinist and conductor unable to keep the music flowing. It’s on the brink of happening here.

The coupling is a little odd. Normally one would expect to have both of Beethoven’s Romances if we were going to have one of these works but, no, we have only the second – the F major – and the D major sonata op.12 Nr.1 filling out the rest of the disc.

The Romance is a Moscow studio performance, the Sonata from a live recital in Milan and both have Padovani – again – recorded very forward. This is hugely detrimental in the sonata since it undermines almost everything that is classical about this work. Clearly Igor Longato, the pianist, and Padovani have quite divergent views on the piece. While clearly no Kempff or Oborin he is idiomatically closer to the score than his partner. He may well have heard Padovani from a very different perspective in the hall and felt no need to compensate with playing which was heavier or louder and you’ll find that his pedalling is rather cleaner than some of Padovani’s bowing; for that at least we should be grateful.

The Romance Nr.2 is marginally the best played work on this disc and that is principally because the work’s more stately music is better suited to Padovani’s grander style of playing. The Romance’s very compactness – slightly over nine-minutes in this performance – gives him less room for ostentatious flourishes, and he even manages to get some of the work’s balance between its dignity and sentiment in proportion.

The booklet is quite heavy on photos of Manrico Padovani in settings that are inspired by graffiti or wall art. I’m not sure what this has to do with Beethoven, though I suspect it has rather more to do with the violinist. As I have mentioned throughout this review, the recorded sound is quite poor. This would rule these performances out of any recommendation whatever the qualities of the playing; and I have to say, they are in quite short measure on this disc.

Marc Bridle

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