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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    BEETHOVEN PREMIÈRE?

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Kuethen's version was premièred in 1995 by Mûza Rubackyté on early instruments, but Sunday's UK première, with the Vilnius Quartet, a leading Lithuanian ensemble founded in 1965, joined by guest violist Vinciane Beranger, also marks the modern instrument première of the piece. Mûza Rubackyté is a formidable Lithuanian virtuoso currently resident in Paris (who last week gave a Wigmore Hall recital to mark the 11th anniversary of Lithuanian Independence -- see my review) and the Vilnius Quartet is a leading Lithuanian group with a distinguished international career. On this occasion, led by Audrone Vainunaite, their ensemble was impeccable, and the cello of Augustinas Vasilauskas was especially polished and providing strong underpinning. The performance was exceptional, with structural clarity, rhythmic precision throughout and Rubackyté's scintillating technical control to articulate the magical key shifts and lyrical interludes, with gentle shading and warm string support. Aesthetically, however, the central question for me was how far the new version was a scaled-down concerto, and how far it was succeeded as a new and autonomous chamber work, a question which the performance helped to answer.

Historically, there are precedents, quite apart from Beethoven's own numerous self-arrangements: Mozart composed a set of concertos in alternative versions, for full orchestra or for string quartet. Played as a piano quintet, those works retain their musical charm and elegance, yet the orchestral versions are clearly richer with the added woodwind and stronger string sound. Similarly in this case, for the fourth piano concerto is one of Beethoven's most intimate and expressive, notably the second movement Andante in which the piano 'tames' the fierce unison strings of the orchestra into submission, the initial dialogues transformed into a free rhapsodic cadenza. And perhaps it was this movement that was most effective, in which the pianist was careful to scale down her own performance to match the ensemble. As a result the dialogue and sonority of the second movement was especially evocative, and if the confrontation of strings and piano was slightly less fierce than in the orchestral version, the sonority of the string support sustained suspense and was always engaging.

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Copyright © 28 April 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK

 

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MÛZA RUBACKYTÉ'S LONDON RECITAL

KUETHEN'S STUDY AND RELATED RESEARCH IS FEATURED IN THE LATEST ISSUE OF ARIETTA, JOURNAL OF THE BPSE

 

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