Notes and Editorial Reviews
Antje Weithaas (vn); Steven Sloane, cond; Stavanger SO
AVI 8553305 (67:51)
Violinist Antje Weithaas’s pairing of Beethoven’s and Berg’s violin concertos isn’t the first, even in recent memory—Isabelle Faust did so, for example, with Claudio Abbado on Harmonia Mundi 902105 (
35:6). Arabella Steinbacher also programmed the two works, with
Andris Nelsons conducting the WDR SO (Orfeo, 778 091,
33:4)—which, incidentally, at 75:22, lasted almost eight minutes longer than Weithaas’s performances—and Audite released a pair of older readings by Christian Ferras of the two works with different conductors. Weithaas asks in the booklet notes for the reason for yet another recording of Beethoven’s Concerto and gives a sort of answer—she believes that she’s found something personal to say in (through?) it. She plays a violin made by Peter Greiner in 2001; and, in doing so, joins a number of intrepid artists willing to espouse the productions of contemporary violin makers. That violin itself deserves attention, because of the bright, silvery sound she draws from it, one that’s generally more than captivating (the engineers have made a contribution to its effect, of course). And, with it, she does manage, as she seems to have hoped, to express a message that, while it may in itself not be so original, yet features many nuances that do from moment to moment in the first movement, in passagework and in cantabile, repeatedly bring something unexpected for the listener to ponder. Her tempos in the first movement remain on the quick side, but that’s no hindrance to the music’s profundity, as Jascha Heifetz and Aaron Rosand have shown. She sounds at times commanding and at times like pure quicksilver in the cadenza, which introduces timpani (as did Beethoven’s own for his piano transcription of the concerto), and the effect is electrifying. (Isabelle Faust, Ji?í B?lohlávek and the Prague Philharmonia, Harmonia Mundi 90194,
32:4, also gave an electrifying account of the cadenza.) The purity of tone that graced Weithaas’s reading of the first movement plays an even more central role in the slow one. Anne-Sophie Mutter dug for more individuality and depth in the movement’s preternaturally still sections with what sounded like warped tools; Weithaas does so without a trace of eccentricity, either stylistic or timbral. While the soloist combines fluidity in statements of the finale’s main subject matter with confident declamation in the episodes (while interspersing a large number of striking cadenzas), Steven Sloane and the orchestra make the tuttis, as in the first movement, authoritatively explosive, but at the same time achieve admirable clarity of detail. Which would be the greater arrogance, to release yet another recording of Beethoven’s work or to believe yourself capable of doing so? Weithaas may be guilty on both counts, but she acquits herself of all charges with a convincing performance that combines light and dark in a delightfully individual way.
Weithaas and Sloane also adopt a quick tempo in the first half of Alban Berg’s Concerto’s first movement, a tempo that, perhaps surprisingly, does little to disperse its mists and brings passages together for listeners in a fresh way (recall the famous, perceptually ambiguous, duck-rabbit). As in one of the outstanding early recordings of the work, that by André Gertler (Angel 3509, released on CD as Hungaroton 31635), the engineers have placed the violin within the orchestral web, and make a strong case for it belonging there. Sloane and the orchestra revel in the shifting timbres of the first movement’s scherzo-like second half but build to an almost terrifying climax near the middle. Weithaas slashes more savagely than Gertler did in the opening of the second movement’s first half (and Sloane extracts more disturbing dissonances from the orchestra than did Paul Kletzki in that recording). And they create, in the tragedy at the end of that half, a terrifying sense of existential
. And in embellishing the chorale tune (
Es ist genug
) that Berg spun out of his tone row, Weithaas and Sloane evince an almost chamber-like intimacy.
Previous experience with Weithaas’s recordings made the arrival of this one for review particularly intriguing, raising the highest expectations. Each and every aspect of the release (including the prepossessing tone of Greiner’s violin) has met, and even exceeded, those expectations. A recording of special merit, it deserves a place on every record shelf. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Antje Weithaas (Violin)
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Violin by Alban Berg
Antje Weithaas (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1935; Austria
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