During the first public performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, violin virtuoso Franz Clement entertained the audience by playing his own compositions on a violin turned the wrong way around between the first and second parts. In this concert, the violin will no doubt be held correctly throughout under the watchful eye of conductor-violinist Guy Braunstein, who was the youngest person to be appointed concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2000.
Most great soloists have just one career in life, but Tel Aviv-born Guy Braunstein (b. 1971) is already on his third. After a brilliant solo career as a violinist collaborating with celebrated orchestras and conductors, he began to feel that something was missing and accordingly joined the ranks of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – as the youngest leader in its history – to get a feel for the music ‘from the inside’, as it were. He had seen a video of Karajan conducting the orchestra in Brahms’s second symphony and decided that was how he wanted it to sound when he played the Brahms violin concerto. “I wanted to break the DNA of the orchestra with this music. If you can’t beat them, join them,” he gave as his reason. By 2012, he was ready to return to being a soloist, but this time with an even deeper understanding of the music. Increasingly often, he also conducts, as in tonight’s performance. He has guested in Finland before, but now makes his debut with the HPO. Guy Braunstein plays a Francesco Roggieri violin from 1679.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) wrote his only violin concerto at considerable speed in 1806 for the Austrian virtuoso Franz Clement. He completed the score only two days before the premiere in Vienna, so the soloist had to sight read it. Judging from the reviews, Clement improvised between the movements, and also played a piece of his own holding his violin upside down. One critic wrote: “As regards Beethoven’s concerto, the verdict of the experts is unanimous; while they acknowledge that it contains some fine things, they agree that the continuity often seems to be completely disrupted, and that the endless repetition of a few commonplace passages could easily prove wearisome.” The second performance was not until 1844. This time the soloist was the young Joseph Joachim, and the concerto has since become one of the cornerstones of the violin concerto repertoire. The solo part is far from easy, yet it is melodic and warmly appealing rather than excessively virtuosic. Beethoven did not himself provide a cadenza.
Claude Debussy: Petite suite (arr. Henri Büsser)
Claude Debussy (1862–1918) did not personally rate his four-movement Little Suite originally scored for piano four hands very highly. He first performed it with his friend Jacques Durand at a Paris salon in 1889. Durand reported that Debussy seemed very agitated and made him promise not to play too fast, but no sooner had they begun, than Debussy got faster and faster; nothing could persuade him to slow down; he just wanted to get it over. Its fairly warm reception was undoubtedly due to the fact that it ended in a most spirited, hectic manner.
The suite of four little pieces (En bateau, Cortège, Menuet and Ballet) was arranged for orchestra by Henri Büsser (1872–1973) in 1907. Büsser was a composer and conductor and among other things conducted Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande. He was also a highly-respected teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, where his most famous pupil was Henri Dutilleux.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60
Beethoven wrote his fourth symphony as a commission from a certain Count Franz von Oppersdorff, the agreement being that his orchestra would be the first to perform it. By the time it was finished, Beethoven had forgotten this and had it performed elsewhere. The Count was understandably annoyed and his orchestra never played it. The critics wrote that it was full of ideas and had a distinctive quality, yet for some reason it has been overshadowed by the symphonies on either side of it. Structurally, it is not as revolutionary as no. 3, the Eroica, or as dramatic as no. 5. It often has a touch of humour evocative of Beethoven’s teacher, Joseph Haydn. As Hector Berlioz said, it is “generally lively, alert, and joyful, or of a heavenly gentleness.”
The first movement simply bursts with energy after a slow introduction, and the second is one of Beethoven’s most poetic. The explosive Allegro vivace that follows is a scherzo, and the finale abounds in humour and unexpected twists.