Workaday music is lifted by performances with flair

Tanja Becker-Bender: Eck

The Strad Issue: May 2024

Description: Workaday music is lifted by performances with flair

Musicians: Tanja Becker-Bender (violin) Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim/Johannes Schlaefli

Works: Eck: Violin Concertos: no.1 in E flat major, no.2 in G major, no.5 in A major

Catalogue number: CPO 777975-2

Once upon a time, sets of Mozart’s violin concertos didn’t stop at the canonic five. As recently as 1995 (Christiane Edinger for Arte Nova) they included two concertos posthumously published under his name, and long known to be spurious. The first of them, optimistically catalogued by Köchel as K268, is now thought to be the work of Friedrich Eck (1767–1838). This admirable CPO album proves that (in the form it has come down to us, anyway) K268 is not only implausibly bad Mozart, it’s indifferent by Eck’s standards, too.

Let’s not get carried away – Eck is a routine melodist, writing four-square tunes that nearly always do what you expect them to. However, in her brief introduction, Tanja Becker-Bender points out how the galant conventions of these concertos are transcended by solo writing of proto-Paganinian intricacy. As a child-prodigy violinist hawked around the courts of Europe hardly less exploitatively than Mozart himself, Eck knew his way around the instrument. He knew how to make it sing as well as dance and do tricks; so does Becker-Bender. Sympathetically recorded in a bright church acoustic, her tone is unfashionably but not excessively warmed by vibrato, her ornamentation discreet, her double-stopping game on point.

Johannes Schlaefli is attentive to all of his soloist’s tiny hesitations and urgings, together bringing the notes off the page. They capture the operatic as well as the rustic character of no.5, especially in the concluding Rondo espagnole, irresistibly evoking the Turkish-style finale of Mozart’s Fifth. Perhaps the confusion between the two composers is not so far-fetched after all.