Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto No. 2:
Rondo, “La campanella.”
Non più mesta. Moto perpetuo.
Caprices: Nos. 13, 20, 24.
Di tanti palpiti
Philippe Quint (vn); Dmitriy Cogan (pn)
NAXOS 8.570703 (60:20)
Fritz Kreisler made a rather large number of arrangements of Paganini’s music, and a great deal of them appear in Philippe Quint’s collection. In addition to these, Kreisler arranged the First Concerto’s first movement in a version that he himself recorded (though not until 1936, when he had entered his 60s—it’s the only Paganini he recorded), as, later, would Alfredo Campoli and Guila Bustabo. August Wilhelmj also arranged the first movement of that concerto, snipping here and there, reorchestrating, and adding romantic transitions—but Kreisler’s version bears the imprint of both Vienna and his own personality. While Heifetz, early on, reportedly played Wilhelmj’s arrangement with piano (Váša P?íhoda recorded it that way), I’m not aware of a tradition of performing Kreisler’s version. So this roster of works arranged for violin and piano seems pretty much complete.
Quint begins with the finale of the Second Concerto, often played as an encore. He possesses not only the agility to make the harmonics tinkle (the movement’s subtitle, “La campanella,” suggests the ringing of bells) but the stylistic sensitivity and adaptability to play the occasional passage as though it had been written by Kreisler rather than Paganini (and the accompaniments—Kreisler, like Heifetz, played the piano almost as well as he did the violin—indulge Kreisler’s tendency to
chromaticism). Occasionally here, as in other pieces, Kreisler simplifies or omits, but the excisions and emendations hardly ever disfigure the torso he’s left. And Quint plays with such authority that it’s hard to hear these arrangements as anything but definitive, though inspection reveals otherwise.
Paganini’s variations showcase many of his most difficult technical innovations (there’s nothing in the caprices, for example, to equal the accompanied pizzicatos or double harmonics of the variations on
God Save the King
). They’re difficult enough to make a dazzling impression even when some of the terrors have been shorn, as in Kreisler’s arrangements. He certainly didn’t blanch at the double harmonics that figure so prominently in the Variations on
Non più mesta
, and neither does Quint, though they’re not 99 and 99/100 percent pure in his reading.
The young Jascha Heifetz and the young Michael Rabin made electrifying impressions, each, in the
. If Quint doesn’t bite as deeply into the string as they did even at their lickety-split tempos, he still manages to make a lively impression; his reading takes 4:11, with Heifetz’s (1918) and Rabin’s (1960) and Ricci’s, 3:59, 3: 13, and 4:00, respectively, but Rabin didn’t repeat the first section. It’s impossible to distinguish the difficult passages from the easy ones. Next in Quint’s program come the three caprices Kreisler arranged for violin and piano (Heifetz used to play the 13th and 20th in Kreisler’s way). Quint plays the 13th at a tempo so deliberate that it’s hard to maintain focus, even though the piano part’s interesting enough in itself, but there’s nothing soggy about his approach to the staccatos in the middle section; in his rendition, what had become known as the “Devil’s Laugh” comes closer to a devil’s sigh. In No. 20, he realizes much of the lyricism suggested by the rich piano accompaniment (compare it at this tempo with the even richer one by Karol Szymanowski and see how adept it seems). And he brings a strikingly playful sense, reminiscent of Kreisler’s own, to the middle section (he doesn’t return to the opening after it—-Kreisler reworked the middle section’s ending).
—at least its theme—has become familiar to most violin students working their way through the Suzuki literature, but the piece from which it has been drawn has been recorded with an infrequency that may be due to its difficulty. Quint makes a crisp impression in the double- and triple-stopped passages, reminiscent of Ricci’s performances of the composer’s works, and more advanced recording techniques provide a truer tonal portrait. Quint is as ardently insinuating on the G string as he is commanding in those multiple-stops. And he’s as Kreislerian in the seemingly obvious interpolations as he is Paganinian in the original material.
Paganini’s 24th Caprice has perhaps been played and recorded in the original version more often than in arrangement, but Heifetz used to play Leopold Auer’s reworking. Kreisler’s represents, in a way, a different kind of work, with flintier sparks but some of the original variations replaced (think of what he did with Tartini’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli—there’s a variation here that sounds very much like the multiple-stopped one he created for that Tartini piece). The variation in descending thirds sounds languid in this version (and in Quint’s performance).
Once again in the introduction to Paganini’s variations on
Di tanti palpiti
, the music suddenly sounds like Kreisler. That happens so often in Kreisler’s arrangements that it would attract little notice. But Quint plays with a special Kreislerian sensibility that renders the effect a magical one.
The engineers have captured Quint and the capable Dmitriy Cogan up close, and in this case cozying up like this doesn’t yield an HD image that reveals warts and skin blemishes; Quint is nearly flawless. Kreisler obviously had a good working technique, even if he might never have rivaled Heifetz or Ricci or Kogan or Milstein—and the list might go on longer. Perhaps, however, he had other fish to fry. Or perhaps he didn’t and he might have been, as his wife embarrassingly insisted in public, a fine violinist if he’d only have practiced. Be that as it may, Quint gives these pieces idiomatic performances that Kreisler himself might have envied. That’s a mouthful. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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