BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto, Op. 61; BERG: Violin Concerto – Arabella Steinbacher, violin/ WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne – Orfeo C778091A, 75:22 **** [Distr. by Qualiton]:

Arabella Steinbacher is a fine young violinist who made her debut with Neville Marriner suddenly in 2004, playing the Beethoven concerto. This recording pleases me much, though I cannot say that it brings anything particularly new to the work. That should not be too surprising as a warhorse like this has very little new that can be added. What we get is a rather standard, traditional, big-boned approach to this piece that suits me just fine. It’s not as energetic or even as enlightening as Lisa Batiashvili’s new reading on Sony, or even as profoundly steadfast and structured as Kyung Wha Chung’s classic reading on Decca. But what it does have is some rapturous playing, terrific string tone, and a comprehensive feeling for what the piece is all about, something that many players—even name players—seem to lack. The work is a classical miracle, more of Mozart than of the romantics, and must be played with flawless intonation and evenness of line—Steinbacher has them both, and the large feeling of the orchestra is wonderful.

But the Beethoven is just the icing—the real reason for getting this album is the Berg concerto. This has got to be the most melodic and lyrically-oriented recording of it I have ever heard. Too often the intricacies of Berg’s pseudo-atonal system are used to smother the very real and very necessary melodic threads of this concerto, to its detriment. Steinbacher seems to sense this almost intuitively. The way she plays the Beethoven proves her antenna is tuned to the earthy tones of melodic awareness. The Berg sings in this instance, and I have rarely been so moved by a performance of this prickly but oh-so-lovely piece. Fine analog-like sonics with creamy orchestral work. Nicely done, and I look forward to more from this source.

— Steven Ritter