Egmont, Op.84 – Overture
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Sonata No.3 for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op.108
Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Carl Seemann (piano)
Recorded in the Royal Festival Hall, London on 13 March 1964 (Beethoven) and in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 5 September 1956
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: September 2007
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 76 minutes
Kertész views “Egmont” in a very dramatic light, his slow tempos adding to the sense of power. The recording is natural and very clear, and it also presents this account of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in a way that does justice to Schneiderhan’s beautiful and moving interpretation. An accolade therefore to re-mastering engineer Tony Faulkner, who has even managed to ensure that the daunting acoustic of the Royal Festival Hall seems comfortable to the ear. It may seem an old-fashioned turn of phrase, but I must say that I am impressed by the stereo spread. The soloist is well-balanced and is locked firmly centre-stage. There is one strange anomaly however, and it concerns the timpani, which are recorded clearly if a little less forwardly than I would have preferred. This is not a serious fault and I can easily live with it. But what did Mr Faulkner make of it when he found that those instruments – placed well left of centre in the Overture to “Egmont” – commenced the Concerto by playing the opening from right of centre? Presumably the concerto followed the overture at this concert, so surely the timpanist did not shift his instruments in that short space of time.
Timpani have a more important role in this recording than in others because Schneiderhan is one of the few to use Beethoven’s own cadenzas. This is rare, the reason being that they are not to be found in the score. Beethoven did, however, write cadenzas for the piano-concerto transcription that he made of this work, and Schneiderhan has skilfully arranged them for violin. In the first movement, this section has a highly original timpani accompaniment. I am surprised that so few other artists choose to use Schneiderhan’s reconstruction and even he only recorded it on one other occasion (with Eugen Jochum on Deutsche Grammophon). In his recordings with Furtwängler, Celibidache and Paul van Kempen, he relied on the tried and trusted Joachim cadenza.
The beauty of this performance is notable. Schneiderhan is all sweetness and light but he is rhythmically strong and the softness of his playing – exquisite in the slow movement – is always within the context of a gentle, forward-moving approach. Yes, I realise that a couple of high notes were just short of pitch, but by that time I was aware of that this was a performance of no little greatness and I therefore have no intention of specifying where they are. Dancing gentility informs the finale, Schneiderhan playing with a slightly more refined tone here than in the two other versions with which I am familiar (Furtwängler and Jochum). I can understand those who might feel that, overall, his collaboration with Kertész results in an understated performance, but I find it deeply sensitive and a great musical experience.
The Brahms is a strange filler but the older mono recording is more than adequate. It gives a slight edge to Schneiderhan’s tone that may not quite represent the sound his violin produced at that time, but he certainly displays his control of shape and form in Romantic music. His subtle phrasings are always within the context of Brahms’s classical structure. The refinement of this performance is best displayed in the third movement, which is quaintly marked Un poco presto e con sentimento. The violinist fully realises that he is the secondary partner here and his subdued playing makes the movement all the more effective.
Despite the age of the recordings, the quality of this disc is admirable and the performances are of star quality.