Notes and Editorial Reviews
12 Variations on
“Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen.”
12 Variations on
“See the conqu’ring hero comes”
Rainer Zipperling (vc); Boyan Vodenitcharov (fp)
ACCENT ACC 24237 (71: 23)
This is one of those discs that elicits sharply divergent opinions. Rainer Zipperling, known for his performances of Baroque music on viola da gamba,
Baroque cello, and bass viol, here jumps boldly forward almost a century to take on early Beethoven (the four works presented here all date from 1796 or very shortly thereafter). He is partnered by Boyan Vodenitcharov on the fortepiano, who with such an instrument has previously recorded some Mozart piano sonatas (praised by Michael Ullman in 32:4) and the piano side of some Beethoven violin sonatas (given a more mixed review by David K. Nelson in 22:6). Moreover, these are performances that look backward rather than forward, so to speak. Zipperling uses virtually no vibrato, and the instrument used by Vodenitcharov (a modern reproduction of one built in Vienna in 1795) is one of those that sounds much more like a harpsichord than a modern grand, or even a mid-19th century Érard. The interpretations are uniformly brisk, and extremely energetic, stressing the kinship of early Beethoven to Mozart and Haydn rather than the elements that look forward to the Romantic. In short, this is the interpretive antipode to Rostropovich and Richter, to cite just one possible example.
If this disc were being reviewed by Lynn René Bayley or someone else of her sensibilities, there would follow here a splenetic screed against period instruments and performance practices. For my part, as I have said before (cf., my review in 35:1 of a disc of piano quartets by Beethoven, Mozart, and Hummel, performed by the Ames Quartet), I can and do enjoy performances from both ends of the interpretive spectrum, so long as they are well done. And these performances are indeed well done—nay, they are absolutely superb. When I first heard the unison opening of the op. 5/1 sonata, I was momentarily nonplused, because the instrumental sound was so utterly unlike that of any performance I had ever heard, and my first reaction was that this disc was headed toward a brief, dismissive negative review. Instead, within two minutes I was thoroughly absorbed in the music-making; within five I was entranced; and my enthusiasm has continued to grow with repeated listenings. They positively bristle with vibrancy and life; seldom has Beethoven sounded so charming! Vodenitcharov’s fortepiano is a rippling brook of bright-toned musical droplets, and Zipperling’s oaken-toned cello dances atop its waves with light-footed abandon. Whether such an approach would be as well suited to the later sonatas is an open question, but for the early works offered here it is an unqualified success. The recorded sound is extremely up close to the instruments, perhaps giving them a greater sense of presence than they would have in a recital hall, though it is not overbearing; the booklet notes for the digipak are excellent. If you have never heard these works performed on period instruments, do give this a try and prepare yourself for an invigorating, ear-opening experience. For me, this is an early candidate for the 2013 Want List; urgently recommended.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
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