L.v. Beethoven, Violin Concerto, Romances, Zehetmair/Brüggen/O.d.18th Ct.
I’ve liked recordings of this work (Milstein, Grumiaux), I’ve appreciated others (Hahn, Znaider, Oistrakh) and I’ve found others, still, wanting (Mutter, Perlman). But unlike the other “Concerto against the Violin”, the Brahms, I’ve never loved this one - nor felt, rather than understood, its greatness.
All awhile I have often read the remark that a new recording of the Beethoven concerto was good – but would not supplant Thomas Zehetmair’s in the estimation of the reviewer. Eager to explore if there was anything to that claim, I snagged the recording (for a long time not readily available in the U.S.) the second I saw it at the local store. The overused cliché of “hearing a work as if for the first time” must be used. Actually, I immediately felt like I remember feeling when I first listened to Beethoven as a little kid. A large part of that experience is the excellent, brilliant sound that was captured on this live recording. That, and Frans Brüggen’s Orchestra of the 18th Century which plays (vibrato free) with such gusto and force, with such heft (listen to the timpani rolling into your room threateningly) one moment and then with the most subtle delicacy the next, that the experience of listening to this concerto becomes eerily visceral.
Enter Zehetmair (with vibrato and playing the Schneiderhan cadenzas) in the Violin Concerto and the two Romances. He does play with some vibrato, he’s fast but never rushed, he’s fresh and energetic. The communication between orchestra and violin seems symbiotic, the execution is flawless. The word “fresh” is the one that wants to insert itself in every sentence describing the performance… to me, it feels like a crisp, perfect Sunday family breakfast in the mansion. Whatever it may ‘feel’ like to you, be assured this recording is not just marginally better or different than others, it is, in the most literal meaning of the word, outstanding. Do try and hear for yourself!