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Ludwig van Beethoven Complete Works for Violin & Orchestra (feat: violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja) Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Kopatchinskaja has something genuinely individual to say about this masterpiece.

Andrew McGregor 2009

There has been a surprising number of new recordings of Beethoven recently from some fine fiddle players in the spring of their careers. Yet even amongst this crop of estimable newcomers, this one is unusually interesting, and not a little provocative.

From the first dry timpani strokes, the colours of period winds, the bite of the strings and propulsive tempo, you might guess that it’s Philippe Herreweghe and his Orchestre des Champs-Elysees. We’re made to wait a little for the soloist’s first entry, and the rising octaves are given an exploratory feel… which is a clue to Moldavian violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s approach. If you think you know her sound from previous recordings, you’d be forgiven for not recognising it; she’s deliberately channelling the spirit of the concerto’s first performer, Franz Clement, and contemporary descriptions of his playing: “light, silvery touch, a natural poise, and totally unforced spontaneity.”

Kopatchinskaja has extended that sense of freedom by experimenting with some of the variants in Beethoven’s autograph, all perfectly reasonable and unlikely to ruffle the plumage, unlike the cadenzas. She’s not the first violinist to reach for the ones Beethoven himself wrote for this concerto when he prepared a version of it for piano, but she’s the only violinist to attempt to play all the notes from the piano cadenzas, multi-tracking herself to startling effect. Which leaves the ‘historically informed’ credentials of the performance in a state of authentic confusion, yet at the same time amplifies the sense of adventure and genuine re-discovery.

The period orchestral sounds are vital; the flowing tempos are close to Beethoven’s metronome marks; Kopatchinskaja’s character, her soaring sound and improvisatory flair are compelling, and ultimately highly musical. How much you care for the performance in the end might depend on those ‘impossible’ cadenzas, yet there’s a spirit and freshness I haven’t heard since Thomas Zehetmair’s account of the Beethoven with Frans Bruggen.

Kopatchinskaja has something genuinely individual to say about this much-loved and recorded masterpiece, and it comes with attractively straight accounts of the two Romances, and the unadorned Fragment of what might have become a C major violin concerto.

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