Vintage Violin Recordings – What to Listen For

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

xxxxx

 

This copy had practically no smear on either the violin or the orchestra. Try to find a violin concerto record with no smear. We often say that Shaded Dogs, being vintage All Tube recordings, tend to have tube smear. But what about the ’70s Transistor Mastered Red Label pressings – where does their smear come from?

Let’s face it: records from every era more often than not have some smear and we can never really know what accounts for it. The key thing is to be able to recognize it for what it is. (We find modern records, especially those pressed at RTI, to be quite smeary as a rule. They also tend to be congested, blurry, thick, veiled, and ambience-challenged. For some reason most audiophiles — and the reviewers who write for them — rarely seem to notice these shortcomings.)

Of course, if your system itself has tube smear — practically every tube system I have ever heard has some smear; it comes with the territory — it becomes harder to hear tube smear on your records. Our all-transistor rig has no trouble showing it to us.

Keep in mind that one thing live music never has is smear of any kind. Live music is smear-free. It can be harmonically distorted, hard, edgy, thin, fat, dark, and all the rest, but one thing it never is, is smeary. That is a shortcoming unique to the reproduction of music, and one which cause many of the pressings we sell to be downgraded.

The Violin Concerto in D major

Description by Michael Rodman

Beethoven wrote his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806), at the height of his so-called “second” period, one of the most fecund phases of his creativity. The violin concerto represents a continuation — indeed, one of the crowning achievements — of Beethoven’s exploration of the concerto, a form he would essay only once more, in the Piano Concerto No. 5 (1809).

By the time of the violin concerto, Beethoven had employed the violin in concertante roles in a more limited context. Around the time of the first two symphonies, he produced two romances for violin and orchestra; a few years later, he used the violin as a member of the solo trio in the Triple Concerto (1803-1804). These works, despite their musical effectiveness, must still be regarded as studies and workings-out in relation to the violin concerto, which more clearly demonstrates Beethoven’s mastery in marshalling the distinctive formal and dramatic forces of the concerto form.

Characteristic of Beethoven’s music, the dramatic and structural implications of the concerto emerge at the outset, in a series of quiet timpani strokes that led some early detractors to dismiss the work as the “Kettledrum Concerto.” Striking as it is, this fleeting, throbbing motive is more than just an attention-getter; indeed, it provides the very basis for the melodic and rhythmic material that is to follow.

At over 25 minutes in length, the first movement is notable as one of the most extended in any of Beethoven’s works, including the symphonies. Its breadth arises from Beethoven’s adoption of the Classical ritornello form — here manifested in the extended tutti that precedes the entrance of the violin — and from the composer’s expansive treatment of the melodic material throughout.

The second movement takes a place among the most serene music Beethoven ever produced. Free from the dramatic unrest of the first movement, the second is marked by a tranquil, organic lyricism. Toward the end, an abrupt orchestral outburst leads into a cadenza, which in turn takes the work directly into the final movement. The genial Rondo, marked by a folk-like robustness and dancelike energy, makes some of the work’s more virtuosic demands on the soloist.

NPR Guide

What sets the Violin Concerto apart from previous works in the genre is the integration of the solo part within the orchestral fabric, the fusion of violin and orchestra into something far beyond the conventional 18th-century notion of the concerto as a mere solo-tutti confrontation.

The violin is still given the opportunity to do what it does best on a grand scale — namely, to sing. Yet the concerto’s most telling moments are its quietest, where Beethoven speaks not as the thunderer, but as the “still, small voice,” taking advantage of the solo instrument’s marvelous expressiveness in soft dynamics — as when the violin emerges from the first-movement cadenza playing the gentle second subject on its two lower strings, over a hushed pizzicato accompaniment.