Thursday, 9 March 2017

Frank Peter Zimmermann plays Beethoven

I rather thought I had given up enjoying performances of Beethoven's violin concerto. I have been listening to it regularly now for over sixty years. I have 90 recordings of the work on my shelves, including the one I bought in the 1950s (Bronislaw Gimpel). So I was surprised just how much I enjoyed a performance (over the web) by Frank Peter Zimmermann and the New York Philharmonic conducted by Alan Gilbert – a conductor who is quite new to me. The concert dates from 3rd March of this year. I already have a performance of the Beethoven by Zimmermann dating from 1987, but he has come on a long way in the intervening 30 years (he is now only 52 years old and playing magnificently). Zimmermann plays the familiar Kreisler cadenzas, a pleasant contrast to so many violinists who seek out something exotic and provocative. And it goes without saying that -- hurrah, hurrah -- there is not a period or authentic effort in sight. Beethoven's concerto does not need it.

The Beethoven concerto is a tough one to play. For a start, it is very much a concerto for violin and orchestra, and a good orchestral contribution is essential. The violinist has little in the way of bravura passages or pyrotechnics with which to wow the audience. The first movement is long (around 22 minutes) and demands the utmost sophistication from the violinist, and informed and intelligent contributions from the orchestra. It also demands the right tempos for each of the movements – particularly the first, which is often taken too slowly. Zimmermann triumphs on all accounts (as do Alan Gilbert and the orchestra) and the performance, that held my attention throughout, gets one of my rare three star ratings and joins a small, select band of top class performances of this concerto on record.

As an addendum: I was astonished at the quality of this downloaded recording. We have come a long way since I used to couple up my tuner and amplifier to a cassette recorder in order to preserve off-air recordings. There is now (on my equipment) little to choose between studio recordings, and (good) off-air broadcasts over the Web such as this one from New York.

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