Kreisler: Praeludium and Allegro; Caprice viennois; Liebesleid; Tambourin chinois; Berceuse romantique

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COMPOSERS: Kreisler
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Praeludium and Allegro; Caprice viennois; Liebesleid; Tambourin chinois; Berceuse romantique
PERFORMER: Joshua Bell (violin); Paul Coker (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 444 409-2 DDD
Fritz Kreisler was perhaps the last in the tradition of violinist-composers that stretches back to Tartini by way of Ysaÿe, Sarasate and Paganini, and the fascination he holds for modern violinists is undoubtedly fuelled by a certain nostalgia. Unlike Paganini, however, Kreisler was rarely interested in difficulty for its own sake, but he was no less a populist, and was certainly the most famous violinist of his day.

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In their enjoyable recitals, Joshua Bell and Tobias Ringborg show what a musical magpie Kreisler was. Some of his pieces sound gorgeously French (he studied under Delibes), and others are written in a pastiche Baroque style (Kreisler famously and jokingly passed them off as originals). Elsewhere, he taps into the fads of the era, modishly drawing on folk music – Spanish, Irish, gypsy and even Hawaiian – and fin de siècle orientalism. Underpinning all that, however, Kreisler is archetypically Viennese – exuberant, sentimental and witty – and, indeed, it is for the explicitly Viennese pieces that he is now most remembered.

Kreisler was not only a populist but a great populariser, making transcriptions of works by, for example, Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov and Bach, always with a shrewd eye on the market for 78rpm records. Bell gives polished and easy performances, but he restricts himself to original compositions, so that Ringborg in some ways offers a more comprehensive overview. Both discs are warm tributes to Kreisler’s sensuous vibrato and the vocal quality of his writing.

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In his stylish ‘Virtuoso Violin’ recital, Lorin Maazel indulgently forsakes his baton for what is a series of lollipops, including Kreisler’s better-known works and, most agreeably, Jascha Heifetz’s arrangements of songs from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. William Humphreys-Jones