Beethoven himself made this piano arrangement of his Violin Concerto quite soon after the premiere of the original. It is not often performed today although it is all the composer’s own work and, unlike the violin version, it does include a first-movement cadenza. Recordings by Olli Mustonen (very expressive) and Howard Shelley (convincingly straightforward) have indicated a slight revival of interest lately. It is no surprise that Dejan Lazić should also promote the work since he has transcribed Brahms’s Violin Concerto for his instrument and has written cadenzas for Beethoven’s Piano Concertos.
The opening ritornello is powerful and given a notably well-balanced recording. This is a very measured performance; Lazić tends to phrase carefully and linger over each melody on arrival, forward progress is not an essential part of the interpretation. The calm central section of the first movement is treated in romantic fashion and expressive rising phrases soften into near-inaudibility. Because originally conceived for violin it is not easy to get the themes to flow and Lazić cannot be blamed for this. The cadenza which provides the unlikely combination of piano and timpani is of striking originality and is played with clarity and precision. The flowing violin lines in the Larghetto cannot be approximated on the keyboard and at the slow tempo adopted here (Lazić takes three minutes longer than Shelley) the melodies are picked out note by note. The lengthy cadenza that precedes the entry into the Finale is unnecessarily deliberate as are the extended improvisatory additions between sections of this last movement and the hesitant rendering of the second subject also delays momentum. Towards the close a cadenza cumbersomely replaces the brief decorations used in the violin version. Lazić’s technique is admirable throughout and his phrasing is meaningful yet the account overall gives the impression of watchfulness.
The couplings represent imaginative programming – it was Muzio Clementi that commissioned Beethoven to re-score his Violin Concerto. This remarkable musician was not only a London-based music publisher and piano manufacturer but also a talented composer. This inventive Sonata commences with a serious introduction marked Molto adagio e sostenuto. Lazić makes this immensely tragic and the Allegro con fuoco that follows is given with the utmost force – this reading of music by a composer of the Classical period (Clementi was born a few years before Mozart and outlived him by four decades) brings the work firmly into the nineteenth-century. The brief slow movement – Largo mesto e patetico – is also fraught with emotion and leads to an Allegro which here anticipates Liszt. There are variations of tempo – some of them required by the composer – and a whole passage in sonata-form precedes a return to the opening tempo. Lazić imbues this challenging work with weighty drama.
German-born Johann Baptist Cramer lived in London for a great part of his life and he too manufactured pianos. A contemporary of Beethoven if living much longer, Cramer was a pupil of Clementi but despite being twenty years his tutor’s junior his Opus 62 Sonata has a more traditional feel to it although Lazić’s forceful rendering of the sudden forte episodes – a frequent feature of Cramer’s effects – hints strongly at a later era. Perhaps this impression would not have been given had a fortepiano been used. The central Andante quasi allegretto is basically an innocent piece set at walking pace but Lazić takes each section in extemporised style. Similarly the calmness of the cheerful Allegro non tanto is spiced with outbreaks of forceful showers of notes. The work’s subtitle ‘Le retour à Londres’ is not explained by the music but together with the Clementi influence it is reasonable to entitle this release “The London Connection”.