Beethoven: Violin Concerto

Beethoven: Violin Concerto

Veronika Eberle’s new recording with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra carries the ever-popular Beethoven Violin Concerto into some fresh and startling territories. The cadenzas by Jörg Widmann are brand new, composed especially for the occasion; and the album is completed by a fragment of an early Violin Concerto in C major left unfinished by the teenage Beethoven. Eberle has lived with the chief Beethoven Violin Concerto since she was a teenager herself. “It has played a big role in my life because I studied it so young, around 15,” she says, “and it was the concerto that brought me together on stage with Sir Simon Rattle: we performed it when I was still in my teens, in Salzburg with the Berlin Philharmonic. That was a starting point for my career. It’s a work that means a lot to me.” The recording had to be postponed when the pandemic struck. “We waited for it for quite a while. But when it finally happened, we had a wonderful time. Simon Rattle has the biggest heart and soul and creates a wonderful atmosphere. You feel completely inside the music.” The cadenzas at first had posed a dilemma, but Eberle found an inspired solution. “I’ve played many different cadenzas over the years. Kreisler’s is wonderful, but it’s from the Romantic period, so it’s another world. I made my own adaptation of Beethoven’s cadenzas for the piano version of the concerto, but it’s clearly written for piano, not for the violin. Then I realized that what’s missing is someone from our own time looking at this concerto and bringing in new thoughts. Immediately Jörg Widmann came to mind as the perfect person.” At first, she says, Widmann hesitated, telling her he needed some time to think it over. “But two days later, he wrote to me saying that he had already begun and he was on fire with it! He wrote 27 pages within a very short time and I’m delighted and amazed with the result. He took everything melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic from the concerto and put it into his own language.” Widmann’s cadenzas include prominent roles for soloists from among the orchestral instruments. Beethoven had brought this idea into his own cadenzas for the piano version of the piece. Like Beethoven, Widmann sets the violinist in dramatic dialogue with the timpani; he has also created a duet episode with the double bass, and in the second movement with the concertmaster. At the recording, live in front of a small audience in LSO St Luke’s, the featured musicians came forward for their solos: “At the front we had a second set of timpani,” says Eberle, “and we were close enough to play these sections as if they were chamber music.” The occasion was not without its complexities: social distancing rules at the time insisted on increased space between the orchestral players. “The LSO were wonderful to work with, so warm and friendly, all of them sitting on the edge of their chairs to make the best of it.” Including the fragment of the early concerto was Rattle’s suggestion: “He felt that it should be heard even if it is unfinished,” says Eberle. “I was happy with this idea because I loved to see where Beethoven first started to combine solo violin and orchestra, and then where he went with it later. It’s stunning to see his development and how his second approach to a concerto ended in this masterpiece.” As for Beethoven’s violin writing, Eberle sums it up perfectly: “It’s obvious that he comes from the piano. But his approach is very pure—in very few notes he simply says everything.”

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