Notes and Editorial Reviews
Franz Clement's name has come down to us as the dedicatee of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, but a year previously, in 1805, he wrote his own Concerto in D, and it's a major find. This is no orchestrally challenged, formally dysfunctional, tasteless virtuoso vehicle, but rather is a full-blown classical concerto nearly as long (40-plus minutes) as the Beethoven. The melodic material is consistently attractive--and just as importantly, equally interesting harmonically. Deftly scored, and of course wonderfully written for the violin, its lyricism clearly anticipates Beethoven's own work of 1806. If it has one defect, it's that the phrasing turns a little bit square now and then in the outer movements. But let's face it--by the standards of your
average early-Romantic concerto (think Spohr and his crowd) this is a masterpiece.
It goes without saying that Rachel Barton Pine plays the work with the style and elegance that it deserves. While attentive to the opportunities for fireworks (and she plays her own excellent cadenzas both here and in the Beethoven), what stays most in the mind is her beautiful singing tone. It's the sort of sound that Beethoven must have had in mind when he wrote--as he so often did--"cantabile", and it makes both slow movements particularly memorable. Both here and in the Beethoven, however, I can imagine a bit more muscle in the first movements, a touch more oomph from trumpets and drums, and more fire in the Beethoven finale (the Clement strikes me as just about perfect). José Serebrier is one with Pine in adopting her highly lyrical, somewhat dreamy approach, though it's to both artists' credit that the music never bogs down or turns self-indulgent.
As we heard in Pine's previous, superb coupling of Brahms and Joachim concertos, the sonics are ideally warm and natural, and Cedille offers this set at two discs for the price of one (85 minutes of music in all). I would dearly love to give this release a highest rating simply for the discovery of the Clement, which every violin lover should hear both for its historical and real musical interest; but competition in the Beethoven concerto is just too stiff. Then again, no other label or violinist offers such an attractive and innovative coupling. So buy for the Clement, and consider the Beethoven a very serious bonus.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
The reputation of Franz Clement (1780–1842) has come down to posterity on the two legs of his having been the dedicatee and first performer of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and of his having performed, between the first and second movement, a composition of his own devising, on the violin turned upside down (a “myth” that Clive Brown, who edited his Concerto for publication and has provided Çedille’s notes, puts to rest: the program mentions this trick having taken place during the program’s other half). The triviality of the one underpinning of his reputation balances the other half somewhat unfavorably. The emergence of his Violin Concerto in D Major therefore sheds new direct light on Clement as a composer, indirect light on Clement as a violinist, and lots of light of both kinds on Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. If some commentators have noted a connection between the style of writing for the violin in Beethoven’s Concerto and that of Giovanni Battista Viotti, the precise nature of that connection will almost certainly be reexamined as Clement’s Concerto becomes more familiar. Moments in the first movement will seem like déjà vu, even for those only passingly familiar with Beethoven’s Concerto, although similarities with Viotti’s détaché still abound. That first movement, although it’s marked Allegro maestoso, may lack Beethoven’s high moral seriousness and monumentality, but in the self-confident strutting of its first movement and in the cheerful gaiety of its finale (with solo passages erupting suddenly from the orchestral texture, as in Beethoven’s work), it is still obviously a country cousin, not at all unrelated. Brown notes that the two composers employed the same instrumentation (although not throughout). That might account for some of the similarity in sound; but the interrelationships penetrate farther below the surface, and aren’t limited to a few passages that might be taken as echoes. Clement’s second movement, longer than Beethoven’s, engages in rapid passagework in its central section. In eschewing outright display, Clement’s Concerto seems less like a violinist’s virtuoso showpiece than a forerunner of the symphonic concertos that would dominate so many pianists’ concerto-writing for the violin.
Rachel Barton Pine plays this newly published Concerto with an aplomb equal to its own, drawing a consistently strong and attractive tone from the 1742 ex-Soldat Guarneri del Gesù, a tone that the engineers have set a bit in front of the orchestral mass, without disturbing the overall still balance. Her own boldly violinistic cadenzas enhance the first movement especially, and also the finale (a Rondo, like Beethoven’s), although some might find that cadenza somewhat long for its context. However much light Clement’s Concerto may shed, then, on Beethoven’s, it’s attractive enough to hold the stage on its own, especially in a performance as convincing as Pine’s, with enthusiastic collaboration of Serebrier and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Pine and Serebrier change gears for Beethoven’s Concerto, in which the same instrumentation sounds more massive and similar passages for the violin more like definitive statements. Serebrier seems to make fairly frequent rhetorical micro-pauses in the tuttis and to energize their already stormy majesty. Pine plays the first movement with a lyricism that complements Serebrier’s more brooding orchestral pronouncements. (A related balance of musical ideas may be heard in Vadim Repin’s performance with Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic, 31:4.) Once again, Pine provides her own cadenza, in this case a long, sonorous, technically complex, and by the standards of the later 19th century, an idiomatic one. She’s also written a brief, transitional one between the second and third movements and an ingenious, more developed one for the finale, which she plays with aplomb. If Pine’s performance of Beethoven’s Concerto lacks the drive of Heifetz’s, the geniality of Francescatti’s, the nobility of Milstein’s, or the convincing rhetoric of Stern’s, it nevertheless offers mellifluous, sweet-toned violin-playing and thoughtful musicianship throughout.
For those who know Beethoven’s Concerto well, and for those who wish to explore its origins, the combination of these two Classical concertos should prove well nigh irresistible. Recommended.
-- Robert Maxham, Fanfare
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major by Franz Clement
Rachel Barton Pine (Violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1805; Vienna
Length: 40 Minutes 12 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Rachel Barton Pine (Violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Length: 44 Minutes 23 Secs.
Be the first to review this title