Very few recorded violinists have possessed the ideal combination of cantabile purity and angelic intensity for the Beethoven Concerto: Leonid Kogan, Wolfgang Schneiderhan and Christian Ferras all had it, and so, too, Arabella Steinbacher, who plays throughout with a phrasal sensitivity and impregnable command of Beethoven’s structural interfaces that compels the listener along. She captures the spellbound quality of the slow movement’s radiant third theme to perfection, and plays the Kreisler cadenzas with unfailing purity. If only the final coda had erupted with a greater sense of unbridled jubilation, this would have been a world-beater.
Although the Berg Concerto may at first appear an unusual coupling for the Beethoven, there are many parallels, not the least of which is the music’s unhurried nobility and deep spirituality. Steinbacher subtly integrates her playing with the orchestra, clearly recognising that in this particular work the soloist is first amongst equals. Those used to such distinguished advocates as Perlman, Szeryng (both DG) and Menuhin (EMI) may find the lack of solo spotlighting takes some adjusting to, but once one accepts the sensation of the soloist emerging from and receding back into the orchestral textures, this is a quite outstanding recording. Andris Nelsons and the WDR Symphony Orchestra accompany with sensitivity and alacrity, and the engineering is spotless.
From the September 2009 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.