Beethoven's arrangement of Opus 61 for piano
Daniel Barenboim, English Chamber Orchestra
From the time of its premiere on December 23, 1806, Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61, was popular and rightly hailed as a masterpiece. Composer Muzio Clementi urged Beethoven to fashion a version for piano and orchestra. He was reluctant at first, but apparently needed little convincing, since he produced the new piano concerto within a year of the appearance of the violin original.
Beethoven retained the exact orchestration, resisting any temptation to make it fuller, aware the piano's tone was more voluminous than the relatively puny one of the violin and thus able to be heard amid fatter orchestral sonorities. He knew he had a masterpiece and was content to tamper with it as little as possible. He did, of course, have to augment the soloist's role, primarily making use of the lower and middle registers of the keyboard for additional harmonic support (see below). He also supplied cadenzas, which are completely absent from the Violin Concerto, those of Joachim, Kreisler and David typically used in performance.
The concerto opens with a lengthy orchestral exposition or ritornello, marked Allegro ma non troppo. There are two important themes, the second of which is the dominant or main one in the movement. Both of these melodies have subsidiary themes, and the mood to the music in general is that of confident and serene heroism. When the piano enters, it gives a second exposition of this material, which varies somewhat from the orchestral presentation of it. The development section begins in the orchestra and the piano later joins in for some imaginative and complex elaboration on the materials. A brilliant cadenza follows and the movement ends with a short coda.
The second movement (Larghetto) is often viewed as an introduction to the finale, but it has much to say on its own. It features a slow march-like theme, with variations played by the soloist. The music is serenely beautiful, ecstatic in overall effect. The finale features one of those memorable Beethoven dance themes, its peasant character seeming perfectly suited to his often earthy musical side. A second melody appears on horns, bringing more merriment and color. A cadenza comes near the end, and the work then ends brilliantly.
As suggested above, there are many examples where the piano part enlarges upon the violin's role in the original version of the concerto. In the first movement, for instance, there is a quiet passage in G minor in which the piano's left hand must be given something to do or else leave the textures barren. Thus, it responds to the horns and bassoons with repeating quarter-note chords. In the finale, the second theme's first appearance draws an added scale from the left hand in the passage where the orchestra's ascending music is answered by the soloist's descending phrases. There are also numerous examples where the left hand mirrors orchestral sonorities, while the right hand carries the main material.
The work was first performed in 1807 and published in Vienna the following year. A typical performance of this concerto lasts between forty and forty-five minutes.
(All Music Guide)