María Dueñas, Beyond Beethoven Review
María Dueñas, Beyond Beethoven Review
María Dueñas, Wiener Symphoniker & Manfred Honeck
Spanish violinist María Dueñas is celebrated for her exceptional technical command and artistic expressiveness. Studying under Professor Boris Kuschnir at the Music and Arts University of Vienna, she has gathered an impressive collection of accolades, including the 2021 Grand Prix at the Viktor Tretyakov International Violin Competition, the Getting to Carnegie Hall Competition, and the 2018 Vladimir Spivakov International Violin Competition. In addition, her performance at the 2021 Menuhin Violin Competition resulted in the first prize, an audience prize, a global online following, and the loan of a Stradivari violin.
Dueñas has worked with world-leading orchestras and conductors, including her successful debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, and San Francisco Symphony, among others. She premiered Gabriela Ortiz’s violin concerto “Altar de Cuerda” (2022) to international acclaim. As a composer, she was awarded a prize for her solo piano piece, Farewell, and as a chamber musician, she performed with renowned artists. Born in Granada in 2002, she studied at the Carl Maria von Weber College of Music. The 2022-2023 season features her touring with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and debuting with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, alongside numerous other prestigious engagements. Dueñas plays the Nicolò Gagliano violin of 174 and the Stradivarius “Camposelice” (1710), courtesy of the Nippon Music Foundation.
Signed exclusively with Deutsche Grammophon since September 2022, Beyond Beethoven is Dueñas’ debut album, recorded live with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Dueñas offers a brilliant interpretation of one of the most profound works in violin repertoire – Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Dueñas quotes, “You can’t show virtuosity in Beethoven’s concerto, you can only show yourself,” embodying her interpretation entirely through sound. The acclaimed performances with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Manfred Honeck, recorded live at the Vienna Musikverein, create an immersive soundscape. The album also presents Dueñas as a composer through her unique cadenzas for each movement.
Beyond Beethoven, Dueñas’ explores the distinctive approaches of five different artists to the first movement’s cadenza, demonstrating a broad spectrum from Mozartian elegance to virtuoso showmanship and romantic lyricism. To further celebrate each composer’s essence, she also performs another piece by each, including Kreisler’s “Liebesleid,” Saint-Saëns’ “Havanaise,” and Wieniawski’s “Légende,” to name a few. In addition, Dueñas’ in-depth study with Professor Boris Kuschnir in Vienna illuminates her understanding of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, a piece that has been an integral part of her musical journey. This album is an auditory delight and an invitation to explore Beyond Beethoven through María’s captivating performance and ambitious stylistic range.
In this exploration of Dueñas’ Beyond Beethoven, I will explore a captivating contrast between two emblematic pieces from the violin repertoire: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major and Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise. The focus will be on three fundamental qualities of Dueñas’ performance: interpretation of the score, technical execution, and interaction with the orchestra. This comparison invites us to experience the depth and breadth of the violinist’s artistry, providing valuable insights into her approach to performing these vastly different works. For classical music enthusiasts, bringing attention to these facets can deepen one’s appreciation of how a performer can shape and transform a piece through their unique interpretive choices. The comparison also illuminates how these works present complex challenges and opportunities for a violinist despite their distinct stylistic worlds, ultimately showcasing the diversity and richness of the violin repertoire.
In her rendition of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Dueñas crafts an intriguingly unhurried interpretation, contrasting with many historical performances. She adeptly highlights the piece’s innate romanticism, using thoughtful pauses and elongated phrasing to breathe life into the violin’s solo lines. Particularly in the “Larghetto,” Dueñas’ handling of tone, vibrato, and dynamics coalesces to bring forth an exquisite layer of romantic lyricism. Her management of the sprawling musical arcs, accentuating pivotal notes, propels the music while preserving its profoundly emotional core. Turning to the spirited “Allegro” from Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, Op. 83, Dueñas’ performance is notably dynamic, even in the legato sections. Her accentuation infuses the composition with an infectious liveliness, hinging on the piece’s dance rhythms and fostering a playful, captivating musical narrative.
Dueñas’ technical mastery is exhibited throughout her debut album, offering an impressive array of virtuosic feats. In the “Allegro ma non troppo” from Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, Op. 83, her interpretation of the composition’s apex stands out for its passion and precision. The daunting leaps, sprawling arpeggios, and intricate fingerwork are navigated seamlessly, each note meticulously articulated, even amid rapid passages. She tackles the complex bowing patterns with aplomb, producing flowing phrases across her violin, while her expressive glissandi underscore the thematic personality. Her performance subtly hints at her Spanish origins, blending sensuality with rhythmic vitality. Turning to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Dueñas showcases impeccable intonation in the demanding double-stops, and the rapid scales bristle with dynamism and clarity. Particularly noteworthy is her interpretation of the cadenzas, which she authored herself. Her novel compositions, coupled with her flawless execution, add a fresh and potent dimension to this venerable concerto, further underscoring her technical proficiency.
Dueñas’ engaging rapport with the orchestra emerges as a compelling feature of her performances. In Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, observe the intricate exchange between Dueñas and the orchestra as they mutually develop their musical narratives. Guided by Honeck’s adept conducting, the oscillation between Dueñas and the orchestra appears natural and unforced, an attribute made even more evident in the spontaneity of a live recording. Transitioning to Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, Dueñas seamlessly blends into the orchestral tapestry, commanding the melody with fervor and precision. She extracts the melodic strands against the orchestra’s rhythmic canvas with a playful authenticity, rhythmic sophistication, and dynamic sensualism, illustrating the depth and quality of her interactions with the ensemble.
María Dueñas’ debut album Beyond Beethoven, is a striking testament to her blossoming career. Juxtaposing Beethoven’s profound, emotionally charged Violin Concerto with the rhythmic allure and technical flair of Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, she showcases her virtuosic skill and interpretative acumen with dazzling clarity. Her careful navigation through the intricacies of these compositions and her dynamic interaction with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck attest to her unique blend of youthful dynamism and mature artistry. In addition, Dueñas’ ability to articulate her distinct musical voice within these diverse pieces marks her as a talent to watch. This album is an engaging exploration of her musical journey and an enticing promise of the brilliant performances still to come.
Maria Duenas/Manfred Honeck/Wiener Symphoniker
Beethoven and Beyond
Deutsche Grammophon (DG)
May 5, 2023