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8.570360 - BERIOT, C.-A. de: Violin Concertos Nos. 2, 3 and 5 (Quint)
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Charles Auguste de Bériot (1802-1870): Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 32
Violin Concerto No. 3 in E minor, Op. 44 • Violin Concerto No. 5 in D major, Op. 55

 

Charles Auguste de Bériot was the father of the Franco- Belgian school of violin playing. He was born at Louvain into a noble family on 20 February 1820, and was orphaned at nine. The Baron de Tremont remarked about the prodigy’s astonishing progress:

“One day he was rehearsing at my house the first movement of the Rode concerto in A major [Rode’s 4th Violin Concerto]. The first solo is in double-stops. They were in perfect tune, and we complimented him on the fact. Thereupon he drew the bow across the empty strings of his violin, to see if they were in tune – and the E-string was a quarter tone too low. This instinctive feel for true pitch, which unconsciously makes one place one’s fingers so as to correct the pitch of strings out of tune, is a very curious phenomenon in musical execution.”

In 1820 Bériot studied with Robberects and in 1821 he went to Paris. At that time Viotti was managing the Opéra and agreed to hear the prodigy from Belgium. Viotti’s words fully express the fact that a new star was about to rise in the firmament of violin virtuosi: “You have a fine style; endeavour to perfect it. Hear all musicians of talent – profit by all but imitate no one.” Bériot studied briefly with Baillot (apparently only a matter of several months), then struck out on his own, creating a sensation in his Paris and London debuts. Bériot, following the principles of the philosopher Jacotot, believed in self-reliance and was in fact mostly self-taught. He was therefore both an extension of the French School while outside the tradition to a sufficient degree to strike out in a new romantic vein.

Bériot’s life, as well as his music, took on a romantic cast when he met Maria Malibran, perhaps the most famous diva of the 19th century. Malibran, a volatile on-the-edge personality, had fled from her French husband in New York (the marriage itself was a means of escaping her dictatorial father) and was the talk of Europe. In a highly romanticized account of their meeting, Maria was said to have fallen in love with the romantic figure of a dashing virtuoso. Unfortunately Maria had not divorced her husband, so Malibran and Bériot lived as man and wife for years before obtaining an annulment. Though Bériot was one of the best-known violinists of his time, his fame (and the fees he commanded) paled in comparison to Malibran. Bériot, a devout Catholic, was more interested in a regular union, and more solicitous of their children, than was Malibran. Maria died while still in her twenties, apparently from complications arising from a riding accident. In true romantic fashion she collapsed on stage in England and died several days later. Bériot fled to England precipitately after granting a near stranger the right to make the arrangements for Maria’s funeral; only later did Bériot try to have Maria brought back to Belgium. The English, now highly offended at Bériot’s behaviour, refused to recognize his marriage. A legal impasse was finally broken when Maria’s mother claimed the body and brought it back to Belgium.

After Malibran’s death in 1836, Bériot led a more settled life, making only one extended tour to Germany in 1840-1843. When Baillot died in 1842 many (perhaps including Bériot himself) expected the post of professor of violin at the Paris Conservatoire would be offered to Bériot, but Bériot was passed over in favor of Alard. In 1843 the same position became available at Brussels, and Bériot was named professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatoire. He was forced to retire in 1851 because of failing eyesight. He died in Brussels on 8 April 1870.

Bériot combined elements of French School charm and taste with the new pyrotechnics pioneered by Paganini. The Baron de Trémont, who played often with Bériot, wrote in 1841 that “I had heard all the great French and foreign violinists [including Paganini], beginning with Viotti, and I like Bériot best.” From the beginning the motto of the French school had been “to play well, you must sing well.” Bériot’s technical fluency is always in the service of the singing line and his ten concerti represent one of the finest achievements of romantic-era violin music. The three violin concertos on this disc all display the youthful élan and high spirits of early romanticism while retaining the true passions of the period.

De Bériot’s Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 32, dates from 1835 and was published in 1841. It was dedicated to Jules Troupenas and shows the immediate influence of Paganini, whom he had first met in Paris in 1831. The first movement opens with the expected orchestral introduction, leading to the entry of the soloist with a relatively simple melody, followed by a brief display of virtuosity. A second theme, marked dolce, soon gives way to violin octaves, a passage of double-stopping and trills, and exhibitions of technical command, particularly in the recurrent use of artificial harmonics. A modulation brings momentary tranquillity, before solo octaves are heard over an orchestral pedal-point. A cadenza-like flourish brings a final section in B major. The G major slow movement finds room for an expressive solo theme and the final Rondo russe frames contrasting episodes in a lively principal theme, suggesting the Russian element promised in the title.

Concerto No. 3 in E minor, Op. 44, was first published in 1842 and dedicated to Eugène Aubry. It opens with a dramatic dotted figure in the orchestral introduction, after which the soloist enters with an immediate display of double-stopping, the opening phrase echoed in a lower register of the violin. A G major secondary theme is followed by a passage that makes increased technical demands, including left-hand pizzicato. The thematic material of the orchestral opening is heard again, before a transposed version of the soloist’s first theme. The second theme returns in E major, followed by elaborate double, triple and quadruple stopping and an ostentatious use of artificial harmonics. The C major slow movement, opening with a hint of A minor, allows the soloist the principal theme, played first on the G and D strings, and then repeated in octaves. A passage of ferocious multiple stopping relaxes briefly into A major, returning to the original key before the final section, ending with artificial harmonics and final plucked notes. The E major finale is an energetic rondo which, in its varied episodes, exploits the possibilities of the solo instrument, ending with a demanding Allegro vivace coda.

Simpler in conception, de Bériot’s Concerto No. 5 in D major, Op. 55, dates from about 1848. After the orchestral opening the soloist enters with a flourish and an arpeggio that soon ascends into harmonic regions. An element of technical display leads to the soloist’s second theme, followed by an alternation of plucked notes and notes played off the string. After a final passage played con furia and with strong emphasis, the orchestra completes the movement, linking it to the following A major Adagio with a sustained note. The final Allegro is unusual in that it draws very heavily on the first movement, the transposed second theme now presented first in double-stopping. The con furia passage returns, capped by arpeggios and harmonics before the final chords.

Bruce Schueneman and Keith Anderson


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