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Beethoven, Berg: Violin Concertos / Weithaas, Sloane, Stavanger Symphony

Release Date: 01/14/2014 
Label:  Cavi Music   Catalog #: 8553305   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenAlban Berg
Performer:  Antje Weithaas
Conductor:  Steven Sloane
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto. BERG Violin Concerto 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 ( Fanfare 35:6). Arabella Steinbacher also programmed the two works, with Read more Andris Nelsons conducting the WDR SO (Orfeo, 778 091, Fanfare 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, Fanfare 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 Angst . 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
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Antje Weithaas (Violin)
Conductor:  Steven Sloane
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
Concerto for Violin by Alban Berg
Performer:  Antje Weithaas (Violin)
Conductor:  Steven Sloane
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stavanger Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; Austria 

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