Kreisler: Praeludium and Allegro; String Quartet in A minor

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Kreisler
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Praeludium and Allegro; String Quartet in A minor
PERFORMER: Kennedy, Katharine Gowers, Rosemary Furniss (violin), John Lenehan (piano), Bill Hawkes (viola), Caroline Dale (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56626 2
Glaring from the CD’s cover photo with furrowed brow, Kennedy (as he now likes to be known) appears to have reinvented himself as a serious musician. Here, he takes up the cause of Fritz Kreisler, virtuoso violinist and composer of salon pieces and arrangements which stand out among the genre for their delicate craftsmanship and charm.

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Kennedy confounds expectations by giving an excellent performance of these often fiendishly difficult works. His technical command is evident from the outset with Kreisler’s glitzy transcription of Falla’s Danse espagnole (originally for solo piano): the ricocheted string-crossing is immaculately crisp. His viola-like timbre on the lower strings is ideally suited to Kreisler’s lush melodies, and particularly alluring in the expansive phrases of Liebesleid. The treatment of Praeludium and Allegro is unusual, its Baroque pretensions swept away by portamenti and a sumptuous tone more reminiscent of Rachmaninov’s salon music. The Allegro, however, brings striking clarity of sound and fine articulation, emphasised by bleaker passages played close to the bridge, pianissimo.

Violinist Katharine Gowers takes over for one of Kreisler’s less successful arrangements, Midnight Bells, a nostalgic transcription of Richard Heuberger’s operetta aria ‘Im chambre separée’. Gowers shows welcome restraint in its swelling melodies, and is given characteristically refined support by pianist John Lenehan.

Kreisler’s unfairly neglected String Quartet is more appealing in its rich chromaticism and dense textures. The ensemble is a little ragged in places, but the performance is powerful, particularly in the nervous, tripping gestures of the Scherzo.

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Deliberate under-production, with extraneous sniffs and breathing sounds, lends credence to the claim that many of the pieces were recorded as live performances. This never proves distracting on what is a thoroughly enjoyable disc, confirming Kennedy as a musician who deserves to be taken seriously.