The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D-Major op.61 is the right music to fall in love with Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born 250 years ago.
Governments all over Europe are loosening restrictions of the corona lockdown these days. Step by step, but hardly in time for Ludwig van Beethoven. The great german composer was born in Bonn on December 17, 1770. Not only his hometown has announced many events to celebrate his 250th birthday. But the epidemic rules put an end to all plans. Beethoven in empty opera houses and concert halls? Inconceivably. My personal favourite in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Oeuvre is the Violin Concert. It has no number like Beethoven’s symphonies. It is the one and only Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D-Major by Ludwig van Beethoven and a masterpiece of pure grace and beauty.
Beethoven does not always let us bathe in beautiful sounds as undisturbed as in this gem, full of catchy tunes. violin and orchestra winding around each other in perfect harmony. Beethoven sets both, the orchestra and the soloist, on a par. Both are constantly switching the leading role. And the great composer spreads subtle evidence of his genius throughout the whole work. So the Concerto begins with softly stroked Tympani. Tympani! Normally associated with dramatic tutti passages in orchestral works. But on the beginning of the Violin Concerto the tympani are barely audible, sneaking in while the orchestra presents the main theme of the first movement.
A Handful of Notes to Put a Spell on Us
Steven Spielberg, so I am told, once said about his movie “Jaws”: “Don’t show the beast to early.” Beethoven let’s us wait for the solo violin for more than three minutes, and from the first note, the instrument lifts us up, as it climbs to heaven like a songbird, calling for our undivided attantion for the rest of the record. These first notes of the solo violin are love at first note – or they’re not. The soloist has this handful of notes to put a spell on us. He doesn’t get a second chance. If he fails, the whole work collapses to a boring chain oft notes, that leaves you watching on your clock and waiting for the break.
That leads us to both recordings of Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra which are part of my record collection. In 1962 ukrainian violinist David Oistrakh recorded the work with the Bolshoi orchestra conducted by Alexander Gauk, and in 1981 the unforgettable Yehudi Menuhin recorded the Concerto with the Orchestra of the Gewandhaus in Leipzig with Kurt Masur at the conductor’s desk. The first recording shows a David Oistrakh on the peak of his prowess. Oistrakh was admired and adored for the way he combined virtuosity with a deep understandig for the sentiment of the music. In this recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto he combines precision and delicacy with an easy stroke of a bow. Every note sounds light and airy or yearningly where demanded. Yehudi Menuhin takes a more emotional and at the same time more fragile approach, sometimes intonating with an ever so slight roughness around the note. His interpretation has a sweet brittleness to it. You can hear that in the first notes of the violin, when you fall in love with this Music – like I did.