KREUTZER Violin Concertos: No. 9 in e;1 No. 13 in D.1 Variations on “Nel cor più non mi sento.”2 Song of the Peasants of the Canigou, “Montanyas regaladas”2 • Saskia Lethiec (vn); José Ferreira Lobo, cond; Orquestra do Norte, Porto;1 Conservatoire de Versailles Ens instrumental2 Read more class="BULLET12b">• TALENT 126 (64:19)
Rodolphe Kreutzer may be best known to violinists as the composer of the 42 Études (and 19 later, more difficult, ones) that challenge burgeoning talent, serving as gateway (or, alternatively, as gatekeeper) to intermediate technical development. If he’s known to more general audiences, it’s more likely as the dedicatee of Beethoven’s Ninth Violin Sonata, which he never played. His 19 violin concertos helped establish the French school of violin-playing; among them, the 13th has perhaps remained longest in the repertoire. The Ninth, from about 1802, however, offers appealingly melodious passagework, accompanied by vigorous orchestral passages and separated by operatic tuttis (Kreutzer had become concertmaster of the Paris’s Opéra in 1801). The first movement plays off the chunky orchestral interjections with more singing solo passages (Lethiec inserts a brief cadenza at the appropriate spot). While Kreutzer’s technical demands in this movement may remain modest, the finished elegance of the solo part offers ingratiating compensation for any brilliance that may be wanting. The slow movement, Romance, rich in pathos, leads to a jaunty Rondo characterized by dotted rhythms relieved by passages in triplets, a formula that seems typical of the period. The 13th Concerto, the last to be readily available in print, comes from the next year, but it’s more richly diverse in its thematic material; the violin solo, as well, provides a variegated mix of the bold and the elegant, with non-stop passagework demonstrating the kind of varied bowings for which his studies prepared violinists. Once again, Lethiec has provided a cadenza. As in Spohr’s concertos, the slow movement here contains written-out ornamentation—older composers didn’t linger for very long on half notes. As in the Ninth Concerto, a pert Rondo on a theme in dotted rhythms (with a Minore episode, a brief excursion into double-stops, and passages assigned to the higher reaches of the A string) brings the work to a close. Saskia Lethiec plays the concertos relatively straightforwardly, with a tone of great strength (caught up close by the engineers); if her readings lack subtlety, she compensates with robust vigor and her tone blossoms in the passages on the G string like the one in the middle of the 13th Concerto’s first movement. The orchestra sounds consistently bright and enthusiastic.
The Variations on “Nel cor più non mi sento,” accompanied by the smaller ensemble, may focus more clearly on the varieties of violinistic figuration, yet they’re not showy in the modern, post-Paganini sense, sounding less complex technically even than, say, Paganini’s “Barucabà” Variations, which the Maestro supposedly wrote with an expository, didactic purpose. The recorded sound makes the violinist seem a bit more distant in this set, similar to the way she appears in the affecting Song of the Peasants of the Canigou, “Montanyas regaladas” (with its extended, sonorous cadenza) that follows. Whatever her distance from the microphone, however, Lethiec doesn’t seem as assured in the Variations as she did in the concertos, though she’s generally sprightly and athletic. The Versailles Ensemble provides discreet accompaniment.
As the concertos of Viotti, Rode, Spohr, Bériot, and, now Kreutzer (as well as his studies) appear on CD, violinists have been given a new opportunity to explore their roots, and audiences can discover why these dynasty-founding violinists also exercised such fascination for their audiences. Very strongly recommended: inspiring to violinists and revelatory (though perhaps not radiantly so) to other listeners.
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