Album Works: Bériot -Violin Concertos Nos. 2, 3, 5
Performers: Philippe Quint, violin / Trevor / Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Label and #: Naxos 8.570360
Play Time:
Recorded: October 2006

Escorted by tympani, cymbals and triangle, the dramatic introduction of the B minor Violin Concerto No. 2 by Bériot reminds me of Paganini. Charles Auguste Bériot (1802-1870) came from a family of Belgian nobility and was noted for his absolute pitch and as a musical prodigy at an early age. Viotti, the great French master of the violin, met Bériot in his teens and predicted that he would be the star of tomorrow. Although he had taken violin lessons from famous teachers of his time, Bériot was believed to be largely self-taught. In 1843, the Brussels Conservatoire appointed
Bériot as professor of violin. He was praised as the founder of the Franco-Belgian violin school that combines French elegance with pyrotechnics emulating those of Paganini. Among his students were Hubert Léonard, Henri Vieuxtemps and Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst.

There goes a French saying that you need to be able to sing to be able to play the violin. Bériot's composition certainly sustain much of that truth. After listening to some of the ten Bériot violin concerto including the much earlier recording of Nos.1, 8, 9 by Takako Nishizaki [Marco Polo 8.220440, recently re-issued as Naxos 8.555104], I'd confidently say that Bériot could have been a successful opera composer had he chosen that route. All his melodies are like arias or intermezzos, his orchestrations often operatic. The youthful élan and romantic charm of the No.2 conjure the magnetism of Paganini yet somehow tone down the virtuoso flamboyance. The final "Rondo Russe" fires up with a touch of Tzaristic energy that never fails to conquer audiences.

The E minor Concerto No.3 opens with a dramatic elaboration that propels with dotted-note rhythmic urgency. Violinist Phillippe Quint enters with a majestic double-stopping passage declaring sovereignty of the concert stage and sails through the agitato turbulence with well-mannered calmness. But that's before the storm. What follows are all the acrobatic techniques imaginable: triple-stopping, quadruple-stopping, left-hand pizzicato and artificial harmonics. At the same time, Bériot's eloquent melodies never cease to romance the violin, carrying through all the way to the Adagio, which could easily be mistaken as the intermezzo of an Italian verismo opera. The D major No.5 is comparatively more concise in length yet uncompromising in operatic texture and melodic content.

Philippe Quint was born in St. Petersburg and furthered his study at The Juilliard School with many competition winnings to his credit, including the Sarasate Competition 1997 and the Juilliard Competition 1998. A number of his Naxos recordings have been voted Editor's Choice by Gramophone and The Strad. This Bériot recording is further proof of his musicality and glowing technique. Listen to his legato lines that weave out a musical spell, or one long sustaining note that evolves through nuances of colors. That's absolute bel canto on the violin.

One final note on Bériot recordings. That such musically satisfying virtuoso works should be so infrequently recorded is beyond my comprehension. There is nothing from the big stars and the big labels over the last 20 or 30 years. I was further perplexed when I searched YouTube and found that Bériot is in fact very popular among the stars of tomorrow. Times will perhaps change?