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CD Reviews

Music Library Reviews: “Beethoven & Clement Violin Concertos”

In this new series, Classical 91.7's music librarian Chris Hathaway reviews new additions to our ever-growing CD library. This month, Chris reviews Beethoven & Clement Violin Concertos, featuring Rachel Barton Pine, violin and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Violinist-composer Franz Clement (1780-1842) has been portrayed in the past as something of a charlatan, an empty virtuoso not noted for his musical depth. Clement, as concertmaster of the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, was entitled to give annual benefit concerts for which he received the lion’s share of box office receipts. For his benefit of 1806, he commissioned Beethoven to write a concerto for him; and he is remembered as the performer for whom Beethoven wrote the work, even though the Concerto is officially inscribed to Beethoven’s friend Stefan von Breuning. The story that has been given out over the last two hundred years was that Clement played the concerto (which had been completed at the last minute) at sight, and interrupted the piece (between the first and second movements) by playing an unaccompanied sonata of his own — on one string, with the violin held upside down. This has never been corroborated. It is generally known that Beethoven withdrew the concerto after the December 1806 performance and made substantial revisions: it has never been known what role Clement had, if any, in consulting with Beethoven on these revisions. Now, in light of recent re-examination of Beethoven’s autograph scores, it seems that Clement had a greater role in those revisions than has been assumed. Clement is known to have performed the revised version of the Beethoven concerto — the one that has entered the repertory — at least twice: in Dresden in 1815 and in Vienna in 1833, six years after Beethoven’s death and toward the close of his own life and career.

Now, Chicago-based violinist Rachel Barton Pine has come out with a 2-CD album (Cedille 106) which pairs her own probing view of the much-recorded, much-justly revered Beethoven Concerto with a Concerto in D from 1805 by Franz Clement, which probably has not been played in public since the composer unveiled it a little over 200 years ago. This is no work of a charlatan or an empty virtuoso. It avoids gratuitous display and sounds more “conventional” in some ways than the Beethoven, especially in the first movement, which owes something to Beethoven especially in the long orchestral exposition that opens the piece—one is reminded of the Beethoven third piano concerto. Clement goes on to write a very lyrical and deeply felt slow movement. There is no empty virtuosity here: violin technique is completely put at the service of unfolding melody and elaboration on it. Clement rounds out his concerto with a brisk but easygoing Rondo. It is in a lilting 6/8, the same meter as in the finale of Beethoven’s slightly later concerto. The orchestration is deftly handled, the writing for the violin superbly idiomatic but not gratuitously so. One wonders if this concerto, coming as it did before the Beethoven op. 61, prompted the older composer’s admiration.

Ms. Pine has provided her own cadenzas for the Clement concerto, as Clement’s own have not survived—indeed, much of his prolific output remained upublished both during and after his lifetime; much of it has been lost. She also supplies cadenzas for the Beethoven, to which she takes an expansive approach, painstakingly attentive to nuance and detail but never losing sight of the larger picture. Her first-movement cadenza, like the composer’s own in his piano version of the work, is based largely on the five-note motif that opens the work. Unlike Beethoven, she does not lead off her cadenza with the motif but adroitly weaves it into the fabric of thematic redevelopment. It is a welcome addition to the violin repertory. Veteran conductor Jose Serebrier, who seems to have studied this score as though it were a new composition (his handling of the Clement reflects similar musical values), responds in kind—as do the musicians of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Beethoven & Clement Violin Concertos
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Maestro José Serebrier
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Cedille Records CDR 90000 106