Sometimes you just want to listen to something light but, you know, sophisticated and virtuosic, tuneful and uplifting and...fun. Which is exactly what these works--usually referred to as "showpieces"--for violin and piano are. Eight of the 15 selections on this program are either composed or arranged by Fritz Kreisler and have been recorded a zillion times by the greats and not-so-greats and by all manner of very respectable artists in between. The same is true for the Heifetz arrangement of Debussy's "Beau soir", Elgar's "Salut d'amour", Sarasate's Zapateado, and the same composer's arrangement of Moszkowski's Guitarre.
Australian violinist Benjamin Breen is among the finer interpreters ofRead more these challenging recital mainstays, whose technique, while not absolutely flawless, is commanding and solid, his energy palpable, his involvement in the spirit of the music infectious, even if his tone--he plays a 1712 Guarneri--is uniformly bright and "edgy" and forward, and even though his range of expression lacks the more varied and characterful nuance of Kreisler's own renditions, or those of my favorite modern interpreter of this repertoire, the Canadian James Ehnes. Nevertheless, these are performances that will hold up to many repeated hearings, whose fundamental attention to detail and quality musicianship deserve an enthusiastic recommendation.
Breen's accompanist, the legendary Milton Kaye (who performed the U.S. premiere of Shostakovich's First piano concerto and who served as Heifetz's accompanist in the 1940s), demands special mention. This turned out to be his last recording--and if all the dates mentioned in the disc notes are correct, this means Kaye was 97 when this recording was made! The engineering places the instruments--particularly the violin--up close, and this actually isn't a bad thing. At a certain volume level I was able to experience the violin at the center, between the speakers, its presence vibrant and as close to literal as you get on a recording. As mentioned, the brightness and grittiness may not appeal to all listeners, but to me (as a violinist) this aspect only made the experience of Breen's playing more affecting and natural. Strongly recommended.
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