In a program originally scheduled for the Musikverein in Vienna, Martin Haselböck and his period instrument Orchester Wiener Akademie presented Beethoven's Coriolan Overture and Violin Concerto played by Benjamin Schmid, and two of Beethoven's obscure concert arias plus four Schubert Lieder orchestrated by Liszt, Brahms, Offenbach and Webern sung by Thomas Hampson. With all concerned tuned down to 430, including Schmid on a 1718 Stradivari strung with gut, the effect was intoxicating.

Martin Haselböck and the Orchester Wiener Akademie © Orchester Wiener Akademie
Martin Haselböck and the Orchester Wiener Akademie
© Orchester Wiener Akademie

In Haselböck's powerful, eloquent reading of Beethoven's Coriolan, there was unanimity of phrasing within the string sections and even poetry in the way the cellos and violas phrased their arpeggios. The horns were simply beautiful, nothing forced or cracked. The brilliant sound seemed enhanced by the handsome visuals although incongruously at the end during the key cello solo the cameraman was watching the bassoons.

Hampson was enormously charming and grand in two obscure Beethoven arias that he recorded 20 years ago with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and another Viennese period instrument orchestra. They sounded at times like the rustic bits of Haydn without the common rustic touch, and Mozart at his most euphonious, with delightful little riffs for the woodwinds; in other words, Beethoven unbuttoned and having fun.

Thomas Hampson and the Orchester Wiener Akademie © Orchester Wiener Akademie
Thomas Hampson and the Orchester Wiener Akademie
© Orchester Wiener Akademie

The Schubert set was totally beguiling: Geheimes, orchestrated by Brahms, was limpid with muted strings; Ständchen à la Offenbach was like a barcarolle with plucked strings under horns; Erlkönig by Liszt was fierce with braying horns, snarling oboes, a harp and flutes for the Erlking himself. The terror at the end was tangible and cataclysmic, as if it were being sung by Wotan. The encore was one of Beethoven's enchanting Scottish songs in which Hampson was joined by the principal violinist and cellist, and fortepianist Zita Nauratyill on an 1825 Johann Pottje.

Benjamin Schmid and the Orchester Wiener Akademie © Orchester Wiener Akademie
Benjamin Schmid and the Orchester Wiener Akademie
© Orchester Wiener Akademie

In Beethoven's Violin Concerto, Benjamin Schmid used non vibrato occasionally, added some flourishes here and there, varied his bowing widely in repeating sequences of triplets and 16th notes from striding to staccato, used portamento sparingly. But what stood out was his engagement with the development of Beethoven's narrative through the clarity of his line and his increasingly intense response to the emotional regions the music explores, capped by Henri Vieuxtemps' fiendishly difficult, unpredictable and violent cadenza.

In the Larghetto Schmid extemporized flourishes and connecting phrases imported from Beethoven's piano version, and varied the intensity and tightness of his trills. Vieuxtemps' cadenza paid unusual attention in thirds to the movement's slow theme, leading to an exhilarating Rondo which caught the orchestra not quite prepared for the velocity but ready in time for the big tutti refrains, urgent and surging, with the minor key interlude featuring a sweet-singing bassoon. After an upbeat that sounded like it came from the last movement of the Mendelssohn Concerto, the last of Vieuxtemps' cadenzas started long and then, like all his cadenzas, worked the solution out with a dramatic sense of Beethoven the revolutionary.


This performance was reviewed from Idagio Global Concert Hall video stream

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