Isabelle Faust / Alexander Melnikov / Jirí Belohlávek / The Prague Philharmonia BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto - Kreutzer Sonata

Beethoven described his Kreutzer Sonata as being written ‘in a very concertante style, more like that of a concerto,’ so it makes an apt companion-piece for his actual Violin Concerto. Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov give a bold, sweeping performance with a real sense of spontaneity, and Harmonia Mundi’s engineers have done them proud. Both players find an extra ounce of intensity in the repeats, though it’s a pity Melnikov takes it upon himself to add a decorative twirl to Beethoven’s deliberately plain repeated chords in the interjections where the finale’s tarantella rhythm suddenly changes – a tiny lapse in taste that isn’t shared by Faust in the violin’s answering phrases. If the Violin Concerto fares less well, it’s largely on account of the rather faceless contribution from the Prague Philharmonic and Jirí Belohlávek. Their opening tutti is so metronomic that Faust’s very free first entry comes as a shock; and in the slow movement Belohlávek irons out the main theme’s ‘dotted’ rhythm, diminishing its essential expressive character. The CD booklet is silent on the subject of cadenzas, but like a few other players – among them Wolfgang Schneiderhan, Thomas Zehetmair and Gidon Kremer – Faust has adapted the ones Beethoven himself provided when he hurriedly rewrote the work as a piano concerto. All such versions of the first-movement cadenza feature the timpani, but only Kremer bizarrely has an off-stage piano in addition. The Schneiderhan and Zehetmair performances are still among the best around, with the latter offering a compellingly coherent view of the often over-relaxed opening movement.  (Misha Donat)

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