Notes and Editorial Reviews
12 Scènes ou Caprices,
Prélude ou Improvisation,
Bella Hristova (vn)
NAXOS 8.572267 (68:02)
With the recent rash of recordings of his works, by now the music of Charles-Auguste de Bériot should have become almost as familiar to collectors as it has been to violinists, both teachers and students. Although probably few pupils
work through his
(1858) at the beginning of their academic careers, they encounter his concertos halfway through, and if they’ve persisted, study his 60 concert studies as a sort of gateway, beside Dont’s op. 35 and Gaviniès’s
, to the transcendental technical studies of Paganini and Ernst. Unlike Dont’s more patterned études, however, Bériot’s take the form of character pieces: even the simple melodies and scales in the
recall music for the salon more vividly than music for the studio.
From the outset, it’s clear that Bériot cut the
Douze Scènes ou Caprices
from the same cloth. The opening study, “La séparation,” begins almost as bleakly and hauntingly as does Sibelius’s Violin Concerto and includes a buzzing middle section in double-stops that draws upon the violin’s less familiar timbral regions as effectively as do some of Bartók’s duos. At least Bella Hristova plays the study that way, taking maximum advantage of the rich and dramatic possibilities for characterization it offers. If No. 2, “La polka,” doesn’t attain the same level of portraiture, it exceeds the First Study in brilliance and complexity, and Hristova proves herself more than equal to its demands. No. 3, “Le lézard,” brings snaky (lizard-like) chromatic lines, while No. 4 (“Le départ”) frames passagework with a lament. No. 5, “La fougue,” contains a mix of scalar and arpeggiated lines that climb chromatically in the middle section, punctuated by explosions of double-stops. No. 10, “Marche russe,” may not sound particularly Slavic, but it relies on the usual stock characters to carry its drama forward.
The Nine Studies, while not bearing titles (except for the last, written “in imitation of the old masters”), also express severally a range of moods that should qualify them for parlor performance, even if the first four remain as intensely patterned as the 60 Concert Studies (the Fifth, Melody, the Sixth, “Gulnare,” and the Seventh, March, offer more developed character studies). The posthumous
Prélude ou Improvisation
, written, as the notes state, largely without bar lines, might, except for its length (nine minutes and then some), be welcome in an occasional appearance on the concert stage in place of, say, Kreisler’s
Recitativo e Scherzo.
Bruce R. Schueneman’s insert notes point out the similarity of Bériot’s arsenal to Paganini’s; and a cursory examination of the scores may perhaps make them seem more similar than they appear upon closer examination: in Bériot’s studies, the difficulties have all been wrought in conformity with positions achievable by a normal hand, while Paganini’s notoriously require the skill of a contortionist. Nevertheless, Bériot tailors these difficulties to his intended performers, and both the easiest and the most difficult of his works (and some, especially the studies, reach a very high level of difficulty) make a brilliant, thoroughly violinistic effect. Marc Pincherle likened Vivaldi to Kreisler in writing music that achieved a maximum of brilliance with a minimum of effort; he might have included Bériot.
Bella Hristova’s consistently elegant and richly characterized performances camouflage the difficulty of these studies, though they seem to reach at least the level of the 60 Concert Studies. The engineers captured the tonal splendor of her 1655 Nicolò Amati in St. John Chrysostom Church in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, on February 12–15, 2009. Collectors of all kinds should find this compilation uncommonly interesting; but to violinists, it should be irresistible. It would be sad to learn that Hristova didn’t choose to record this repertoire only because a contract to do so had been offered and didn’t feel as sympathetic to the composer as she seems. In any case, strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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