The cover of María Dueñas’ debut album (courtesy of Crossover Media)
This Friday Deutsche Grammophon will release the debut album of Spanish violinist María Dueñas. The title of her album is Beethoven and Beyond, where the “beyond” accounts for five cadenzas published over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As expected, Amazon.com has a Web page, which is currently processing pre-orders.
As one might guess from the album title, those cadenzas were all invented for performances of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 61 violin concerto in D major. More specifically, they were all invented as cadenzas for the concerto’s first movement, the longest of the three movements. The cadenzas that were documented by four of the composers, Eugène Ysaÿe, Camille Saint-Saëns, Henryk Wieniawski, and Fritz Kreisler, all lasted between four and four and a half minutes. Only the earliest of the cadenzas, by Louis Spohr, clocked in at slightly less than 90 seconds. These five tracks basically serve as an “appendix” to the entire album.
The “heart” of the album begins with Opus 61, which is then followed by short original compositions by each of the “cadenza composers.” Those works are as follows in the same order in which their cadenzas appear:
- Spohr: the second (Adagio) movement from his first “Symphonie concertante” in G major, scored for violin, harp, and orchestra
- Ysaÿe: his Opus 20 “Berceuse”
- Saint-Saëns: his Opus 83 “Havanaise”
- Wieniawski: his Opus 17 “Légende”
- Kreisler: his “Liebesleid” (love’s sorrow), the second of his three Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen
The most familiar of these (usually as popular encore selections) are the works by Saint-Saëns, Wieniawski, and Kreisler.
Personally, I am afraid that I am not particularly drawn to what amounts to a “package deal.” Most important is that, where concertos are concerned, I always prefer going to a concert performance to listening to a recording. It is only through an in-the-moment account that I can appreciate any inventiveness that the soloist brings to performance, even before (s)he has to face a cadenza. If the inventiveness of any one of the cadenzas can be traced back to some past composer, I have no interest in being reminded of that composer.
As a result, what matters the most to me is that, on the opening tracks of this album, Dueñas plays cadenzas of her own invention. The only question that matters is one that I cannot answer: Were I to be in the audience for Dueñas’ performance of Opus 61, would the cadenzas sound the same in concert as they do on her album?
Ironically, she already made her debut with the San Francisco Symphony on October 3, 2019, performing with guest conductor Marek Janowski. Unfortunately, her concerto selection was Felix Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 violin concerto in E minor, which has many virtues but is hardly on a par with Beethoven’s Opus 61! Nevertheless, at that time she was a sixteen-year-old, who definitely made me sit up and take notice!
Beethoven and Beyond, on the other hand, never came close to urging me to sit up and take notice. Her own cadenzas did little to tip the balance in her favor. All I can do is hope that I shall have another opportunity to listen to her in performance (hopefully of the Beethoven concerto this time). Then I can decide for myself whether or not she has any of those in-the-moment qualities that seize my attention and refuse to let go of it!