Delicate Insights in Performance of Beethoven Violin Concerto

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Beethoven: Sara Trickey (violin), Welsh Sinfonia / Mark Eager, (conductor), Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 22.9.2012 (PCG)

Violin Concerto in D, Op.61:
Coriolan Overture, Op.62:
Symphony No 4 in B flat, Op.60

During the course of this past summer we have encountered two complete televised cycles of the Beethoven symphonies conducted by Daniel Barenboim with the East-West Divan Orchestra and Christian Thielmann with the Vienna Philharmonic respectively.. Both returned us to the romantic era of ‘big band’ Beethoven, with a full complement of strings and doubled woodwind. Here, however, Mark Eager, in a spoken introduction to each item in the concert, nailed his colours to the ‘authentic’ movement with a small body of strings (only one double bass) and a strict adherence to Beethoven’s controversial metronome marks.

The main problem with these metronome marks, indicating extremely fast speeds in a manner that has led to suspicions that his metronome was faulty, is that the balance between wind and strings can become problematic. The winds, and especially the brass, speak more readily at these speeds and the strings, especially the violins which ‘speak’ less readily, can become overwhelmed. This is particularly the case when, as here, the trumpets are raised on a podium behind the timpani; and there were points in both the Violin Concerto and the Fourth Symphony when the melodic lines in the violins were obscured by the purely rhythmic interjections of both trumpets and horns. In future concerts the Welsh Sinfonia might consider lowering the risers on which the brass sit to make a more integrated sound possible.

However the violins covered themselves in glory in their excited articulation of the fast running passages in the finale of the Fourth Symphony and, apart from a couple of minor slips, the horns negotiated their sometimes tricky parts well. The woodwind had no trouble making themselves heard, including some nicely perky bassoons, and the first clarinet in particular came through expressively.

In a performance which aimed to be as authentic as possible when modern instruments are used, it was perhaps surprising that the second violins were tucked in behind the firsts (in the twentieth century manner) rather than ranged antiphonally on the other side of the stage as Beethoven would have expected. The results in the opening tutti of the Violin Concerto were somewhat ragged, but with the entry of Sara Trickey we were transported to another world. The fact that she played from a score argued that she might not have been that familiar with the music, but her performance gave the lie to such an unworthy suspicion. It was quite simply perfection; not only note-perfect, but time and again distinguished by delicate insights and touches which suggested a lifetime acquaintance with the role. Her high notes, totally poised and tuned, had a delicacy which evoked a whole convocation of ascending larks; and her control of the complicated passages of double and triple stopping in the cadenzas (these were not attributed, but seemed to be largely those by Joachim) were always perfectly tuned and clarified. I look forward to future performances by this artist with anticipation.

The problems of balance were less serious in Mark Eager’s urgent account of the dramatic Coriolan overture, and the performance of the Fourth Symphony (with all the repeats, important in this symphony where Beethoven provides lengthy linking passages leading back to the relevant points) had plenty of delicacy in the slow movement and lots of drive elsewhere. As Mark Eager pointed out in his introduction, the Fifth was waiting in the wings.

Paul Corfield Godfrey