BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto. Triple Concerto
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is a festive work for the Christmas season, argues Thomas Albertus Irnberger in an extensive booklet note. As evidence, he cites the work’s premiere on December 23, 1806, its use of trumpets and timpani in D (echoing the opening chorus of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio) and a thematic reference to the traditional carol ‘O Freude über Freude’. On paper, Irnberger’s case is compelling; in performance, I’m not convinced. The first movement – played at a relatively urgent tempo – conveys bright-eyed expectation rather than the exultancy one associates with the proclamation of Jesus’s birth. Indeed, I can imagine a stronger case being made for the movement as a kind of expansive Pastoral Symphony.
Irnberger imagines the Larghetto as a processional to view the Nativity – a musical Adoration of the Magi, perhaps. It moves with a rapt solemnity that’s quite affecting, while the soloist’s rhythmically alert playing prevents the precariously slow tempo from sagging. His glistening tone has a slightly nasal quality (the product of a sparing use of vibrato, I believe) that’s generally pleasing, though I’m less enamoured of his distracting tendency to end phrases abruptly, as if his bow simply stopped moving (listen at 9'25", for example). The finale is more buoyant than lyrical, fitting with Irnberger’s vision of it as a festival of shepherds’ celebratory horn calls. Even if none of this really evokes a Christmas spirit, the effect is delightful.
The violinist has a distinct take on the Triple Concerto as well, describing it as a compendium of dance forms – marches, minutes and polonaises – that were popular with the Viennese aristocracy in the first years of the 19th century. He and his colleagues David Geringas and Michael Korstick mitigate the music’s tendency towards muscularity with playing that’s elegant and well characterised. I was especially charmed by the hauteur of the passage beginning at 5'03" in the finale. Sadly, Irnberger’s prosaic readings of the two Romances are considerably less endearing.
James Judd has the orchestra support Irnberger’s ideas with joyful conviction, and the RPO’s contribution is stellar throughout. If only the engineers had not placed us quite so close to the solo instruments. The balance sounds artificial, is not always flattering to the violinist’s tone and sacrifices a good deal of orchestral detail.