In 1975 and 1977, the Russian-German composer Alfred Schnittke wrote cadenzas for each of the three movements of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto for his colleague Gidon Kremer. Although they deal with Beethoven’s themes, these cadenzas are in Schnittke’s modernist style. The first begins with the violin playing the stark interval of a minor second. It also incorporates the timpani (as Beethoven did when he transcribed the work as a piano concerto). 

Vadim Gluzman

The Schnittke version was recorded by Kremer with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields under Neville Marriner in 1982. Critics called it a great performance, ruined by Schnittke’s interpolations. (Kremer recorded the first and third movement cadenzas only; Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman does the same here.)

Gluzman and American conductor James Gaffigan give another satisfying performance. The sweetness of Gluzman’s high notes is palpable in the slow movement, while Gaffigan takes care not to go overboard on ‘period’ qualities like speed and sharp attack. The Lucerne Orchestra’s sonority matches Gluzman’s warmth. 

They have coupled the Beethoven with the third of Schnittke’s four violin concertos, composed in 1978 when he was at the apex of his powers. Schnittke was a composer without boundaries, whether in his musical influences, harmonies, or formal layout. Typically, what seemed extreme and experimental at the time now reveals intense musicality. That is definitely the case when Gluzman brings his warm tone to the challenging solo part (which includes playing quarter-tones at one point).

Schnittke’s most popular violin concerto has been recorded several times, notably by Kremer. The latter’s lean tone added to the angularity of the music, while Gluzman and Gaffigan relate the piece more strongly to the mainstream canon. The two concertos illuminate each other in a revealing context. It is a smart pairing, and sound quality is excellent. 

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Composer: Beethoven, Schnittke
Works: Violin Concertos
Performers: Vadim Gluzman v, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra/James Gaffigan.
Label: BIS BIS2392