An Indispensable Anthology
Johannes Climacus | Beverly, Massachusetts | 05/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fritz Kreisler was a unique figure among the great violinists of the previous century: his seductively sweet tone and richly lyrical style of playing are instantly recognizable, and his delightful "stile antico" confections still grace recital programs worldwide. EMI's recently-released "Icon" anthology of his recorded legacy, though by no means comprehensive, nevertheless contains all of this great artist's important concerto recordings, his superb collaboration with Franz Rupp in the complete Beethoven duo sonatas, his own hauntingly nostalgic String Quartet (in a fine performance with an ad hoc ensemble) plus numerous other original pieces and arrangements. The recordings date from the acoustic through the early electrical eras, and include earlier and later versions of several concertos, including the Mozart D-major, the Beethoven, the Mendelssohn and the Brahms--and fascinatingly different they are. All are of immeasurable historic value, and, happily, all have been well transfered to CD. Indeed, the sound is remarkably smooth for 78-rpm era recordings, and even the acoustical recordings offer unusually vivid reproduction of the solo violin. The orchestral accompaniments, under various distinguished conductors (Blech, Ronald, Barbirolli, et. al.) range from more-rough-than-ready (in several the earliest recordings) to outstanding (in many of the later ones); piano accompaniments from Rupp, Raucheisen, and others are uniformly accomplished. Good documentation, too, including an intelligently written retrospective of Kreisler's career and sufficient information about recording engineers and venues.
No collector of historic recordings or lover of great violin playing can afford to miss this."
Arthur Danese | Fredonia, NY USA | 06/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The boxed set of vintage Kreisler recordings is indeed a treasure! It affords the listener a panoramic view of one of the greatest violinists of all time. It is a sentimental journey that transports the listener to a time when performers embraced their audiences and electrified the air with enchanting music. The accompanying notes are detailed, extremely informative, and afford the reader unparalleled access to all aspects of Kreisler the performer.
This set belongs to the record collection of everyone who now can enjoy at will the artistry and humanity of a unique artist!!"
A fantastic opportunity for all to see why Kreisler was (or
Robert Coulter | Delaware, USA | 06/28/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This release of EMI is an opportunity no lover of violin should pass up. Before the era of Heifetz and the perfectionist, there was a time where exactness of performance was not a substitute for the music's soul. Fritz Kreisler was both the leading exponent and the embodiment of that era, and while it was Heifetz' "cold, speed-driven perfectionism"** which would be the larger influence of the next generation, there are not a few names in the pantheon of 20th century violinists who viewed Kreisler as the king.
**Disclaimer: I'm not for a moment claiming Heifetz himself was a cold performer, but I suspect his dominant position as the recognised leading violinist of his day (a little after Kreisler's time) coupled with his ultra-fast performing style (borne, certainly, from his exceptional technique) may have been the catalyst for the ensuing period of fast, clinical virtuosos, often accused of being devoid of feeling. This appears, in any case, to be a cyclical thing -- before Kreisler's era there was apparently another period of cold, fast performers. (Perhaps this is a legacy of Paganini? There are certainly similarities in the positions held by Paganini and Heifetz in their respective eras). It may even be the case that we are starting to cycle back to a period of the more emotive style again -- James Ehnes, for example, comes to mind as a modern violinist who appears to be eschewing speed in an attempt to infuse more expression. But I digress...
In the period between the two wars Kreisler stands a giant. One of the last masters of the "Viennese" style, he was renowned for a superb but idiosyncratic technique and a rich, sweet tone. He was also regarded as a first-class interpreter. In addition to all of that, he was a gifted composer: he wrote cadenzas for many of the major violin concertos (some still in use), a good string quartet, and penned a slew of short salon pieces and arrangements which have become standard encore repertoire.
Put on a Kreisler disk and he is instantly recognisable, his expressive style, his vibrato and his use of the expressive slide (a product of his age, nowadays out of favour, being viewed as overly sentimental). His personality shines through his recordings. Kreisler is Kreisler, and he has much to say worth hearing. The general problem with a Kreisler recording is its age, ergo its sound quality. The 10 disks here span the period February 1904 to February 1939. Not surprisingly, there is some very dated sound among whats on offer here. However, much of the remastering job is to be applauded and generally, the listening experience is not tainted by sonic disturbances. There are some exceptions, however, but to mention them I need to list the contents (which is absent here on Amazon, though you can sort of work it out from the sound bites):
Disks 1 & 2: both disks have the same 2 pieces, but in different recordings: Mozart's violin concerto #4 -- disk 1 with Landon Ronald (1924), disk 2 with Malcolm Sargent (1939) -- and Beethoven's violin concerto -- disk 1 with Leo Blech (1926), disk 2 with John Barbirolli (1936). Both disks have sound issues and I rarely return to disk 1. Disk 2 has been well remastered but there are obviously defects in the source, clicking and such, which have proved beyond current techniques. Still, I do listen to disk 2 frequently enough. Kreisler's cadenza for the Beethoven is outstanding, incidentally.
Disks 3 & 4: again the same 2 pieces, but in different recordings: this time we get the classic violin concertos of Mendelssohn and Brahms. Disk 3 are both with Leo Blech (1926 and 1927, respectively), while disk 4 has the Mendelssohn with Landon Ronald (1935) and the Brahms with John Barbirolli (1936). Disk 4 has come up really well and is certainly the pick of the concerto disks in this release. Kreisler uses his own cadenzas again.
Disk 5: first we get another muffled recording, Bruch's 1st violin concerto with Eugene Goossens, from 1925. But this is close to the last time one has issues with sound. The Bruch is followed by a good performance of Kreisler's own string quartet in good sound (from 1935) -- I have no other recording with which to compare it. It is a heavily romanticised piece, dripping with honey; or at least it is when played in Kreisler's own honeyed style! I wouldn't call it an unbridled masterpiece, but it certainly holds the listener's interest.
Disks 6 through 8 contain a justly famous set of recordings of the Beethoven violin sonatas, Kreisler being accompanied by Franz Rupp. Recorded in 1935 and 1936, this is a wonderful set worth the price of the box. Perhaps they are not the first choice in the sonatas -- let us not bicker on what might be! -- but they are certainly an enjoyable listening experience and have received plenty of praise in their time. They are in good sound.
Disks 9 and 10 are both wonderful disks, perhaps the jewels of the box. They contain a swathe of encores and ditties, both of Kreisler's own works and arrangements, and short works by other composers. These are either solo works or accompanied by piano. Here more than anywhere else in this box set, Kreisler's humour and sheer joy in making music shines through. Both disks are fun, you'll find yourself returning to these disks often. The sound on these disks are on the whole perfectly fine, only the last 3 pieces from the last disk truly showing their age -- since they date from 1904 and 1911, I guess that is hardly surprising.
In summary, this box provides a very good representation of Kreisler and his art. Of the 4 and a half disks of concertos, only 1 is truly in good sound, with a 2nd reasonable. The remainder of the concertos are interesting for comparisons but not recordings you are likely to turn to often. The Beethoven sonatas, spanning 3 disks, are excellent, while Kreisler's string quartet is good, nothing more. The two disks of encore pieces are pure joy. So all in all, I would say purchasing this box offers you about 7 disks of music to treasure, the remainder good for reference. Certainly, this box has become one of the most treasured items in my collection. Kreisler fans will have already stopped reading my ramblings and bought the box; for the rest, I suggest you take a chance and introduce yourself to Kreisler. You will not regret it. (Though you may regret the time spent reading this lengthy review!!! Apologies!)
One final note: Amazon's product description claims this box set contains a recording of the Elgar violin concerto -- this is not true. In fact, Kreisler never recorded the concerto dedicated to and premiered by him."