The constant search for musical influences and allusions can yield fascinating results: witness the Violin Concerto in D (1805) of Franz Clement (1780-1842), a violinist of exceptional ability and the composer of six violin concertos. His D Major Concerto–suppressed for almost 200 years–is scored exactly upon the same lines as the Beethoven Concerto (1806), and several points of emphasis–as in the ending of musical periods, rhetorical, Viennese figurations, and the use of tonic pedal–suggest that the two composers, in mutual admiration, wrote their respective works in spiritual dialogue.
The Clement first movement Allegro maestoso favors large, swooping gestures, offset by a kind of military, secondary theme; then, a lyrical, arioso tune, perhaps in imitation of Paganini. Some commentators speculate that Beethoven’s piano concertos provided a working form for Clement’s imagination. The grand cadenza, written by Rachel Barton Pine, leads to an ending flourish of trumpet and drums, reminiscent of Mozart’s piano concertos. The extended Adagio echoes both Mozart and Viotti, the woodwind work quite aerial and mellifluous, in the manner of a cassation or Mozart’s D Minor Concerto, especially as the music breaks out suddenly in rapid triplets in a dark mode. The falling, scale figures point directly to Beethoven’s first movement. Certainly, the crisp and articulate felicity of the Royal Philharmonic wind and string players contributes to the dreamy effects of this refreshing movement. The last movement has the feel of a Scottish Rondo, a pre-Mendelssohnian limberness. Double-stops, frequent alternations of registration, and a driving dialogue with the flute, clarinet, oboe, and staccato strings point to the Beethoven once more, whose own, last movement theme Clement may well have suggested to the greater master. Pine’s last movement cadenza captures the bravura spirit and extroverted joie de vivre that saturates this entire work, whose time has obviously arrived.
We can now appreciate the Beethoven Concerto (again, enjoying Rachel Barton Pine’s own cadenzas) in light of Clement’s considerable influence, perhaps merely to marvel how a genius composer could develop kernels suggested by a lesser light. Serebrier’s contribution is a strongly defined, muscular character to the opening movement’s tutti, with lavish, rounded periods and shimmering string tremolandi. Pine brings to bear her lovely 1742 “ex soldat” Guarneri del Gesu in exquisite half steps over the tympanic ostinato. The working out assumes an entirely classical poise, much in the mode of Perlman and before him, Szigeti. Pine negotiates the alternately tripping and mysterious scale progressions with a light, sure hand, always expressive and moving to musical point. The breadth of the recap commands comparison with the Schneiderhan/Furtwaengler performance from 1953, and that is saying something. If the bassoon made its lyric presence known in the Allegro movement, it re-asserts itself, along with the flute, clarinet, and French horn, to make beautiful music with Pine in the G Major theme and variations of the Larghetto. Here, Pine’s tender phrasing and meticulous care remind me more of Menuhin’s many attempts to realize this most perfectly intimate, musical moment. Plastic, light but sinewy expressiveness marks the Rondo, whose cadenza by Pine takes us forward and back to the first movement’s dramatic metrics. In all, a brilliantly mounted testament to a pair of musicians–Pine and Serebrier–who relish the exploration of music for its own sake and for the exaltation of familiar works which resist our intellectual complacency.