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.
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.
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