BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto. Romances SCHUBERT Rondo
This interpretation of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto could be considered ‘old school’ by today’s standards. Indeed, if you’ve heard Manze’s sinewy account of the Eroica Symphony (Harmonia Mundi, 5/08), the rich, warm sound of the RLPO strings here may come as a surprise, though it’s a perfect complement to the soloist’s sweet-toned, Apollonian approach.
Technically, Ehnes’s playing is a marvel. The various extended trills in the first movement are so lightly and evenly articulated as to suggest a heart aflutter. He can whip up excitement, as he does with finely honed precision in the two Kreisler cadenzas. But, really, it’s his – and Manze’s – thoughtfulness and patience that make this recording so satisfying. Even in the cadenzas, the exhilaration comes as much from Ehnes’s gradual building of tension as from his virtuosity. Note, too, how he integrates himself into the orchestral part. Just after the first exquisite trill, for instance, where the music turns to the minor mode (at 5'32"), his playing suddenly becomes more subdued and deliberate, as if he were providing a running commentary, sotto voce, to the orchestral argument. And again, in the finale, he pulls back at 3'38" so he’s accompanying the bassoon’s melody rather than dancing on top of it.
Both Ehnes and Manze are careful to give full value to the music’s silences. This is particularly effective in the raptly lyrical Larghetto, where one is made aware that the music’s fabric is actually all in pieces. Only at 4'31" does Beethoven finally unfurl a long-breathed stretch of melody – and how tenderly Ehnes caresses it. In the finale, Manze has the RLPO really dig in, without any sacrifice of tonal plushness, creating a heady atmosphere of rustic vigour that highlights the concerto’s relationship with the Pastoral Symphony.
The two Romances are presented as aria-like scenas. Ehnes’s firm legato phrasing and rhythmic poise provide dramatic backbone, and he heightens the sense of contrast in the central sections with sharply etched articulation. Only in the Schubert Rondo does Ehnes disappoint. The opening Adagio is much like the Romances in its elegance, then Ehnes takes off in the Allegro without looking back. Granted, there are a lot of notes here (this is not Schubert at his most succinct), but speed is not the solution. Sebastian Bohren (RCA, 6/17) revels in the music’s gemütlich ramblings, and while his reading takes two minutes longer, it never wears out its welcome. But this is a minor blemish. Ehnes and Manze have given us a Beethoven Concerto to stand among the very best.