The Beethoven concerto: Here comes another one…

The Beethoven concerto: Here comes another one…


norman lebrecht

February 03, 2020

A new recording of the Beethoven violin concerto landed this morning on my doorstep. It’s by the German virtuoso Lena Neudauer, who says the works makes her ‘feel part of something much greater’. Does it arouse the same sensation in the listener? Not on first hearing.

Had it arrived a month ago, before I assessed 100 or so recordings, would it have made the cut? Certainly not.

Why not?

Because what I am looking for is performances that add something significant to our understanding of the work, performances of which we can say afterwards that they have taken the work itself forward by several paces, that it no longer seems the same as before.

All the performances that Gidon Kremer and I have discussed in three posts fulfil those criteria.

Are there any we left out?

A few commenters single out Wolfgang Schneiderhan, who made three recordings with Van Kempen, Eugen Jochum and Furtwängler. The first is singularly beautiful, languid, commanding and utterly sanitised of anything that might be mistaken for emotion. Schneiderhan gives a sanitised performance. It may be a template for others, but it’s one I don’t want to revisit.

Who else? Szeryng, Grumiaux, Accardo and Josef Suk are deservedly mentioned. All deliver everything one could ask for in the work – without, however, adding that decisive element of progress.

I could also have name-checked Isabelle Faust, the younger Hilary Hahn and Viktoria Mullova without lowering the barrier, not to mention Monica Huggett, who gave a truly thought-provoking period performance on gut strings with Charles Mackerras and the OAE.

None quite forces his or her way into the criterion of taking the work forward.

Only one omission comes close. I have been relistening to the 1972 Moscow recording by Igor Bezrodny, with Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting, and what I hear is a distinctive and immutable style that may hark back to the pre-revolutionary St Petersburg school, a blend of high precision with thoughtful explication. Bezrodny (1930-97) studied in Moscow with Abram Yampolsky and went on to become a busy soloist, conductor and teacher, one who (it is said) never took his violin to a lesson for fear that a pupil would be influenced by his musical personality instead of developing an original sound.

His performance of the Beethoven concerto is more austere than Oistrakh’s and the cadenza is almost frigid in its non-frivolity, but the expression sticks in my mind and I would not wish to be without the unflinching integrity of this interpretation. Bezrodny is my only addition to the previous lists.


As for the newest arrival, Neudauer’s is a perfectly fine and enjoyable performance, perhaps a little too reminiscent of her teacher, Thomas Zehetmair. It’s fine. But we go to football to see a good performance. In music, we demand something more.



  • Daniel Poulin says:

    Norman: are you planning a review of the transcription for piano?

  • pageturner says:

    Now we know NL’s opinion of football. At odds with Pavarotti and quite a few others who can love both the beautiful game and a sublime opera / concerto / sonata / symphony, etc.

  • fflambeau says:

    Another was by Adolf Busch (who was, by the way, not only a frequent performer with Rudolf Serkin, he was Peter Serkin’s grandfather). There are recordings of this with Busch up at YouTube. He was really good.

  • Radames says:

    There is another recording by Schneiderhan, with Celibidache and the Berlin Phil in 1954.

    Another version I didn’t see mentioned is Perlman/Giulini

  • Mike Aldren says:

    Georg Kulenkampff seems to have escaped the net too.

  • Ken says:

    The thesis is the proverbial “straw dog.” The responsibility of the performers is to play the work to represent the composer’s conception, not to evolve a new one. (Interpretation is the devil’s plaything.) “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Tetzlaeff everywhere, and Heifetz/AT. I’m sure there are more, but that’s the motherlode.

  • Jay says:

    What nonsense this is ….all choices are subjective and
    dressed up in hyperbole to bolster the choice.Mr. Kremer
    and Mr. Lebrecht may agree on their choices which only means they share the same prejudices on what they deem
    as the best interpretations. If one were to question their taste and knowledge of music their choices would also come into question.
    I repeat it is all” subjective”.
    While we are at it what does take a work forward truly
    mean…? Only Beethoven could tell us how to view the work.In music we demand something more ????????
    Pray tell us what the more is ???????

  • Nurhan Arman says:

    Igor Bezrodny was great. I heard him live in Beethoven concerto and it was unforgettable. Also from live performances Christian Ferras and Leonid Kogan’s interpretations are still in my mind.

  • Robert Roy says:

    Does anyone have an opinion on the clarinet version as arranged and performed by Michael Collins?

    • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

      ==clarinet version as arranged and performed by Michael Collins?

      No, transcription is by Pletnev, who insists on conducting it as a Klemperer-type tempo. Horrible

  • fflam eau says:

    I don’t know if it the best but it is certainly a fine, historic performance of Beethoven:

    that by the most famous German violinist of his day, Adolf Busch.

    Busch was the founder of the famous Busch Quartet (with Rudolf Serkin as pianist) and was even Peter Serkin’s Grandfather. He recorded this with the New York Philharmonic with his brother, Fritz, a famous conductor, conducting. It is a Columbia recording. See his discography here:

    The Busch family was very interesting. Adolf’s brother, Fritz, was the conductor of the Dresden State Opera (before that in Stuttgart).

    From Wikipedia:

    “Five weeks after Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, Busch was removed from his post at the Dresden State Opera in a politically motivated dismissal.[6][7] This March 1933 dismissal was humiliating: Nazis in the front rows shouted “Out with Busch” at the beginning a performance of Rigoletto, leading to his replacement as conductor by Kurt Striegler.[6] The Nazis charged that despite his high salary, Busch had taken frequent leaves from the opera to accept guest-conducting invitations elsewhere, although these had been built into his contract.[6][8] Not himself Jewish, he counted many Jews among his friends and was opposed to dictatorship.[9]

    One of those Jews: Rudolph Serkin.

    Another brother was a famous cellist: Hermann Busch.

    Adolf Busch along with Rudolf Serkin, was one of the founders of the Marlborough School of Music and Music Festival in the USA.

  • GLIM says:

    Oscar Shumsky with Philharmonic & Andrew Davis. Although the imperfection of the recording, the performance still magical with lyrical phrasing.

    • will says:

      exactly which ‘Philharmonic’?

      • David K. Nelson says:

        It was the Philharmonia. On the ASV label. I do recall it as a very beautiful performance and that of course Shumsky used the Kreisler cadenzas.

        Here is a recording that nobody has mentioned. Yet I was told years ago by an industry insider that it was the biggest selling recording of the Beethoven Concerto of all time. Susanne Lautenbacher on Vox. Interestingly, Vox also offered the David Oistrakh recording with Alexander Gauk conducting. That was the one my father opted to buy. It was $1.99 at our local drug store.

  • Alex S says:

    I have been listening to and playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto for about 45 years now. Two renditions I highly recommend are Liza Ferschtman with the Kammerakademie Potsdam (Antonello Manacorda conducting) and Lisa Batiashvili with the Israel Philharmonic (Zubin Mehta conducting).

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Dear Norman, with respect…. might it not be time to move on to the next work of Beethoven in your survey?

  • will says:

    What about Richard Tognetti, Australian Chamber Orchestra directed by the soloist? Gut strings, period wind, low pitch etc?

  • Piano Lover says:

    As with many piano concertos of any composer:most of the recordings are copy/paste from one another.
    There are too many of them-how can they be different??
    Why waste energy to try and find something more thrilling than with any other similar versiosn???
    The milestone versions will remain as such for each one of us,listener.

  • The expressed desire for a performance in which the concerto “no longer seems the same as before” reminds me of this bit of dialogue I recall from a studio piano class at Northwestern University during my doctoral studies there.
    PROFESSOR: James, what did you think of _____’s performance?
    JAMES: Well, I probably shouldn’t comment, since I have a really different and individual conception of this piece.
    PROFESSOR: Oh? What key do you play it in?

  • Frank says:

    Maybe the Beethoven VC was not intended to be listened to in this manner, listening to fifty or hundred different recordings and then picking the one that appeals most to one’s preconceived notions as the one who (paradoxically) moves it forward.
    I would think the concerto was intended to be listened to live in the concert hall, surrounded by other listeners, at the mercy of the ideas of the performers.
    It’s a distortion of the CD era that listeners think they are the ultimate arbiter of how music should be played.
    The funny thing about the Beethoven is its deceptive simplicity.

    • sydney mann[manowitz] says:

      I agree with you Frank.My introduction to the Beethoven violin concerto was by way of the Kreisler on 78s in the 1950’s i loved it !! and the next revelation was menuhin with the Lucerne Festival orch. and Furtwangler – the extra side had Yehudi doing the Kreisler recit and scherzo. Possibly, Yehudi at his best . Wonderful!!! I think we should remember that subjectiveness covers not only the musical taste but personal experiences at the time of listening