Charles-Auguste de Bériot (1802-70): 12 Scènes ou Caprices pour le violon, Op. 109, Nine Studies, Prélude ou Improvisation, Op. posth. Bella Hristova, violin, Naxos 8.572267, © 2009, TT 68:02, ($9.99).

Rising young violinist Bella Hristova gave an impressive duo recital ending the Classical Concert Series Season in Southern Pines. Among the prizes she has won are the First Prize of the 2007 Michael Hill International Violin Competition and the First Prize in the 2008-09 Young Concert Artists International Auditions. The latter provides young artists with management, exposure through concert dates, and recordings. The enterprising Naxos label makes many recordings of a number of important competition winners. While quite a few choose to record well-worn bread-and-butter repertoire, Hristova has shown more imagination by exploring rare solo pieces by the 19th century French virtuoso Charles-Auguste de Bériot, who seems to have been a rival of Paganini.

Bériot was born in the Belgian city of Louvain February 20, 1802. His family was part of the nobility and, after losing his parents at age nine, he studied with his guardian, the violinist Jean-François Tiby. He moved to Paris in 1821 to further his studies with Tiby’s teacher Giovanni Battista Viotti. Viotti recommended Bériot listen to many violinists but imitate no one. He had an affair with the great diva Maria Malibran whom he married when her first marriage was annulled by the French courts. Bériot accepted the post of violin professor at the Brussels Conservatory in 1843 until failing eyesight forced his retirement in 1852. His most famous student, Henri Vieuxtemps, succeeded him in 1870.

According to Bruce R. Schueneman’s excellent program notes, Bériot’s music is engaging and very romantic. His best known works are ten violin concertos and the first Scène de Ballet. He was strongly influenced by the example of Paganini’s techniques involving “harmonics, extensive use of double stops, and ricochet bowing.” Bèriot’s goal in his published pedagogic studies, Méthode de Violin (1857), and in such works as L’Ecole Transcendante du Violon, Op. 123, was to develop “a well-rounded musician who was as good a communicator as technician.”

The composer’s mature etudes and caprices, like those of Chopin, serve both to develop and display technique and to stand alone as finished artistic creations.

Hristova’s recording of solo violin pieces by Bériot is one of the most interesting and refreshing CDs I have heard in 2014. The composer has a strong ability to create interesting melodies, but he never sacrifices melody for an extreme technical point. Most of the 12 Scenes or Caprices, Op. 109, feature double stops. Two were immediately striking: No. 1 “La Séparation,” and No. 4 “Le Départ.” No. 1 begins with a melancholy slow section in double stops which leads to a very energetic “con molto” section. Music from both sections then return as the piece concludes. No. 4 likewise opens with a sad singing melody leading into a fiery section played with double stops. No. 6 “La Bannière” is a military piece featuring ricochet bowing and a pizzicato ending. The noble theme of No. 9 “La Reine” is worthy of its royal name and leads to an interesting section of arpeggiated chords.

The Nine Studies rise well above mere exercises. Gradation of phrase and fast double stops are highlights of No. 1, “Allegro agitato.”  The brilliant No. 3, “Moderato,” abounds with double stops, styles of bowing, and multi-note runs. No. 4 “Energico” exploits clarity of articulation, rests, chromatic runs, and double stops. The concluding No. 9 “Moderato: In imitation of the old masters” marries rhythmic vitality with fugue structure. The concluding selection, “Prélude ou Improvisation,” Op. Posth., is the longest selection on the CD at 9:25 minutes. It alternates between serenity and explosive energy and displays all of Bériot’s technical quiver “double stops, arpeggios, chromatic runs, pizzicato-accompanied melodies, and harmonics.”

Hristova’s warn tone, precise intonation, and immaculate articulation are a constant delight. Her control of color, dynamics, and rhythm is marvelous. She plays these pieces on a 1655 Nicolò Amati violin, once owned by the violinist Lois Krasner. Engineer Norbert Kraft has captured Hristova’s sound perfectly with just the right amount of space around it. I look forward to the implied second volume of this neglected composer. I notice Naxos has also begun to record several of Bériot’s violin concertos, too.