LABELS: RCA Victor Gold Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Fritz Kreisler-The Complete Recordings
WORKS: Works by Bach, Beethoven, Dohndnyi, Dvorak, Grieg, Handel, Kreisler, Massenet, Nevin, Paganini, Schubert, Tchaikovsky,
PERFORMER: Fritz Kreisler
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61649 2 ADD mono (1910-46)
Bruno Walter put it succinctly: ‘Kreisler did not play the violin; he became the violin.’ Not even Paganini can have forged such a total identity with his instrument. But it is possible to be a first-rate instrumentalist without being a great musician. Kreisler was both, to a degree perhaps never surpassed. One might equally say of him, ‘he did not play music, he became the music’. It may sound strange to anyone unfamiliar with his playing, but Kreisler could ‘phrase’ a single note. Like the great bass Chaliapin, he could seem to pack a lifetime’s experience into a single, outwardly simple gesture, yet with no show of effort or self-consciousness. The naturalness of the playing is almost creepy. In some cases, the virtuosity is close to unbelievable, yet so perfectly matched is it to the music that one scarcely notices. Another feature of the playing is its absolute integrity: no matter how light the music- and most of this fabulous collection is devoted to miniatures — Kreisler never condescends. If style, as once defined, is fitness for function, Kreisler was style itself. The judgement is unerring.
The high point of the collection, for me, is the ninth disc, in which Kreisler and Rachmaninov come together in sonatas by Beethoven, Grieg and Schubert. The big disappointment for many will be the absence from Kreisler’s RCA discography of any of the great concertos, bar the Bach Double, with Efrem Zimbalist and string quartet. Made in 1915, and slightly abridged, it marks the first ever recording of a major Bach work. And here, as everywhere else, one of the most striking things is the absolute absence in Kreisler’s playing of mannerism.
As a composer, Kreisler contributed to the violin repertoire many of its most frequendy played pieces, among them Liebesleid, LiebesfreudanA Schon Rosmarin, all of which he recorded four times for RCA and it is some measure of his artistry that even fourth time around they haven’t outstayed their welcome. And the great curiosity of the collection is Kreisler’s appearance as solo pianist in Dvorak’s Humoresque. No apologies need to be made. The man was a superb pianist, greatly admired by such piano legends as Godowsky and Paderewski, who once remarked, ‘I’d be starving if Fritz took up the piano’. This set, traversing 36 years, is pure gold, and the quality of the transfers is just this side of miraculous. Jeremy Siepmann