An attention-grabbing debut from serial competition winner Maria Dueñas

Maria Dueñas: Beethoven and Beyond

The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: An attention-grabbing debut from serial competition winner Maria Dueñas

Musicians: Maria Dueñas (violin) Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck

Works: Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major; and works by Kreisler, Saint-Saëns, Spohr, Wieniawski and Ysaÿe

Catalogue number: DG 4863512

With her gleaming, heavily vibrato-laden tone, proudly legato delivery and phrasing full of little emphases, 20-year-old Maria Dueñas has certainly given us a memorable, highly individual Beethoven Violin Concerto for her DG debut. Recorded live over three Vienna Musikverein performances, this is a highly Romantic reading in all senses – cleverly tempered by the slightly crisper, noble-flavoured orchestral support from her mentor Manfred Honeck, who also keeps a tight hold on the momentum of the first movement, despite its marked slowings for the super-hushed minor-key episodes and coda re-entry. Also noteworthy is the way Honeck allows the bassoonist to shine through the texture. The result is that, while this probably isn’t one for those who like a bit of zip and zing, everything feels finely balanced. Plus, Dueñas isn’t just a performer but a composer too, and provides three brand new self-penned cadenzas – bold, languorously romantic creations, the most striking of which is the finale’s.

The following short works from composers who also wrote first-movement cadenzas for the Beethoven all play brilliantly to Dueñas’s warm-blooded virtuosity. I do think a trick has been missed by not programming each alongside its respective composer’s Beethoven cadenza – for variation, and to appreciate how they translated their languages into Beethoven; whereas cadenzas programmed back-to-back in isolation don’t work so well. Still, this debut packs a punch.