BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto / Romances Nos. 1 and 2 (Gunter Appenheimer/ Kenneth Jean/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Takako Nishizaki) (Naxos: 8.550149)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Violin Concerto in D Op. 61 (Cadenzas byKreisler)
Romances Opp. 40 & 50
Ludwig van Beethoven, named after hisillustrious grandfather, Kapellmeister to the Archbishop Elector of Cologne,was born in Bonn in 1770, the son of a singer employed by the Archbishop.
Beethoven's father was to prove inadequate paternally and professionally,although he saw to it that his son was trained, in one way and another, toassume his due position in the archiepiscopal Kapelle. It was with theencouragement of the Archbishop, a younger son of the Empress Maria Theresia,that the young musician made his way to Vienna in 1792, armed withintroductions to the leading aristocratic amateurs of the day. He was to remainin Vienna for the rest of his life, at first establishing a reputation as apianist and composer and later, after increasing deafness had barred him fromperformance and, to a large extent, from society, as a genius of known andtolerated eccentricity, a giant among composers.
Beethoven's Violin Concerto in Dmajor, Opus 61, his only completed concerto for the instrument, was writtenin 1806 and at first dedicated to Franz Clement, the principal violinist andconductor at the Theater an der Wien, who gave the first performance of thework, adding a further item of variations played with the violin upside down,an unusual testimony to his technical proficiency. A later edition of theconcerto carried a dedication to Beethoven's friend Stephan von Breuning.
The concerto was well enough received inVienna, although some complained of the excessive length of the first movement,one critic writing of the endless repetition of unimportant passages, which healleged produced a tiring effect. It was not until 1844 that the work became partof the standard repertoire, when it was performed by Brahms's friend Joachim inLondon, with the orchestra conducted by Mendelssohn. Since then it has become afavourite with audiences and players, its position unassailable.
Beethoven, with more than usualassistance from a copyist, transcribed the Violin Concerto for piano andorchestra, adding cadenzas, the whole undertaken in response to a commissionfrom the pianist and composer Clementi in London. Although Beethoven's pianocadenzas have been transcribed for violin, it is usual for soloists to prefercadenzas from other sources better suited to a string instrument.
The first movement of the concerto openswith five ominous drum-beats, in a long exposition, goes on to introduce theprincipal material of the movement, leading to a treacherously exposed openingoctave arpeggio for the soloist. The movement, in all its beauty and variety,continues in broadly classical form.
The Larghetto allows the violinist anaccompanying role, before he finally comes into his own with a fine, singingmelody, later to be embellished, before the weighty chords that introduce thefinal Rondo. Here the soloist introduces the first and principal melody,playing on the lowest string of the violin. An episode of peasant simplicityfollows, and the movement continues in the prescribed form, the first themere-appearing between contrasting sections. As the concerto seems about to endin a whisper, the composer re-asserts himself with two forceful final chords.
The two Romances for violin andorchestra were earlier works. The F major Romance was written in 1798 and the Gmajor work apparently in 1801-2, possibly as slow movements for a C majorviolin concerto that had been started some years earlier, but was never to be finished.
The Romances were published in 1803 and 1805, in Leipzig and Vienna,after being refused by the distinguished firm of Breitkopf & Haertel, towhich they had been offered. They both have a perfection of their own andremain a significant part of the solo violin concert repertoire.
Takako Nishizaki is one of Japan's finestviolinists. After studying with her father, Shinji Nishizaki, she became thefirst student of Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the famous Suzuki Method ofteaching children to play the violin. Subsequently she went to Japan's famousToho School of Music and to Juilliard in the United States, where she studiedwith Joseph Fuchs.
Takako Nishizaki won Second Prize in the1964 Leventritt International Competition (First Prize went to Itzhak Perlman),First Prize in the 1967 Juilliard Concerto Competition (with Japan's NobukoImai, the well-known viola-player), and several awards in lesser competitions.
She was only the second student at Juilliard, after Michael Rabin, to win herschool's coveted Fritz Kreisler Scholarship, established by the great violinisthimself.
Takako Nishizaki is one of the mostfrequently recorded violinists in the world today. She has recorded Grieg'sSonatas for Violin and Piano (RCA), Schubert's Duo Sonata and Franck's A MajorSonata (Balkanton, Eurodisc), an album of music for violin and guitar, tenvolumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler Edition, many Chinese violin concertos,among them the Concerto by Du Ming-xin, dedicated to her, and a growing numberof rare, previously unrecorded violin concertos. For Naxos she has recordedVivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Violin Concertos Nos. 3 and 5,Sonatas by Mozart and the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky concertos.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra hasbenefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. Theseincluded Vaclav Talich (1949 - 1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. TheCzech conductor Libor Pesek was appointed resident conductor in 1981, and thepresent Principal Conductor is the Slovak musician Bystrik Rezucha. ZdenekKosler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra andhas conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the completesymphonies of Dvorak.
During the years of its professionalexistence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of themost distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugene Goossens and MalcolmSargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti.
The orchestra has undertaken many toursabroad, including visits to Germany and Japan, and has made a large number ofrecordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, inrecent years, for the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. These recordings havebrought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from thecritics of leading international publications.
Associate Conductor of the ChicagoSymphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Florida Symphony Orchestra,Kenneth Jean is a young conductor making his presence known both nationally andinternationally. Born in New York City, he grew up in Hong Kong and returned tothe United States in 1967 to live in San Francisco. After violin studies at SanFranciso State University, he entered the Juiliard School at the age of 19 andwas accepted into the conducting class of Jean Morel. The following year, hemade his Carnegie Hall debut with the Youth Symphony Orchestra of New York andwas immediately engaged as the orchestra's Music Director.
Kenneth Jean made his European debut in1980 at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Aberdeen, Scotlandand has since returned regularly. Other orchestras he has conducted include theSt. Louis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Scottish Chamber Orchestra,Orchestra of the Swiss Rad