If you are looking for a conventional recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, then you probably couldn't do better than turn to Arthur Grumiaux's interpretation from 1974, re-issued on Philips together with the two Violin Romances. If, however, you have an ear for historical performance practice and the corresponding instruments, you will possibly enjoy Monica Huggett's and Sir Charles Mackerras' 1992 interpretation as much as I have done. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment uses mainly 18th century instruments (or modern reproductions), while Monica Huggett, one of the world's leading and most famous Baroque specialists, plays a 1618 Amati with gut strings but a wire-wound G string. Vibrato is used very sparingly, and the sound is softer, more delicate - one could perhaps even say 'feminine' - and less intense than with modern instrumentation. As has become the norm with historical performance, the tempi are somewhat faster than one is used to (Grumiaux needs about three minutes more for the first two movements). Monica Huggett has developed her own stylistically appropriate cadenzas to replace those by Joachim and Kreisler normally heard.
I have been quite enraptured listening to these recordings. The Beethoven is a mine of sheer delights, and although the quieter, more refined sound takes a little getting used to, I found in the end that this CD was 'getting to me' even more than the pretty authoritative Grumiaux version. Monica Huggett's playing is always a delight, and I felt she was able to give both the Beethoven and the Mendelssohn that little something extra that makes a special listening experience. The recorded sound is good, although I felt that the orchestra was sometimes a little distant.
As this CD is now available at budget price, I suggest purchasing both it and a more conventional version and granting yourself a delicious listening session to compare the two.
Note made in June 2007: Since writing this review I have heard two further period-instrument recordings of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and they are both so excellent that I want to name them here as alternatives to the Huggett/Mackerras. The one is by Stephanie Chase with the Hanover Band led by Roy Goodman on the tiny Cala label, the other is by Thomas Zehetmair and the Orchestra of the 18th Century led by Frans Brüggen on Philips Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 / Romance No. 1 in G major, Op. 40 / Romance No. 2 in F major, Op. 50 - Stephanie Chase / The Hanover Band / Roy Goodmanand Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, 2 Romances.