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Beethoven, Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos / Fritz Kreisler

Beethoven / Mendelssohn / Kreisler / Barbirolli
Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 1917   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenFelix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Fritz Kreisler
Conductor:  Sir John BarbirolliLandon Ronald
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto 1. MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto 2 Fritz Kreisler (vn); 1 John Barbirolli, 2 Landon Ronald, cond; London PO DUTTON VOCALION 1917, mono (69:12)

Fritz Kreisler recorded Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto twice, the Read more first time with Leo Blech on December 14–16, 1926, when he had reached his early-50s, and the second time a decade later with John Barbirolli and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, on June 16–17 and 22, 1936, as he entered his 60s. It’s customary to prefer the first reading to the second, but he had begun recording the composer’s 10 violin sonatas in April 1935 and would finish while he completed the concerto recording, so he must have been thinking about Beethoven at the time. He also recorded Felix Mendelssohn’s concerto the first time with Leo Blech and the Berlin State Opera Orchestra on December 9 and 10, 1926, and the second time on April 8, 1935, with Landon Ronald and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. When he recorded Beethoven’s concerto, his collaboration with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (December 13, 1936) in his arrangement of Paganini’s First Violin Concerto (first movement) stood only a half year in the offing. And while he still played with genial warmth in his Paganini pastiche (as Viennese in the orchestral part as Italian in the solo), few would probably view his reading as virtuosic in any sense—although Kreisler arranged a number of Paganini’s works—Caprices 13, 20, and 24, I palpiti, La Campanella, Le Streghe , the Moto perpetuo, Non più mesta , as well, of course, as the concerto, virtuosity never seemed central to them. Anyway, many judge that the improvement in recording technology in the decade between Kreisler’s first and second (last) go at Beethoven’s and Mendelssohn’s concertos compensate for whatever slight decline had taken place in his playing during the intervening years.

Vocalion supplies no program notes in the jewel case’s insert, but the remasterings by Michael J. Dutton create a sense of spacious majesty in Beethoven’s opening tutti, scrubbing out noise while retaining the warmth of the orchestra’s sound—and of Kreisler’s, too, when he enters. If Kreisler may be called the maestro of the miniature, he also played the standard concertos with a natural authority. Listeners can hear the easy aplomb that audiences could see; Kreisler reportedly stood at ease during the tuttis and snapped his violin to his chin, in a dashing gesture, only at the last second. Engineers balanced their soloist just in front of the orchestra but managed to keep him forward enough even during the most turbulent accompanying passages. And although some spotty intonation besets Kreisler (violinist Carroll Glenn used to say that Heifetz taught everybody to play in tune) in the first movement’s passagework, he glows in the cantabile passages. In his own cadenza, he suffers a few momentary lapses but recovers to acquit himself in general with both authority and grace; he invests the movement’s closing page with his inimitable charm. Some questionable intonation also emerges in the generally poetic reading of the slow movement, and if you wonder whether any violinist could win a competition with that kind of performance, you might also want to question whether that might not speak volumes about the competition circuit. Kreisler is relaxed but rhythmically alert in the finale.

The violinist took his time in the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Heifetz’s tempos would later seem to correspond more closely to the composer’s original intentions—Mendelssohn had changed its tempo designation to Allegro molto appassionata from Allegro con fuoco —but, as with Kreisler’s gemütlich version of Paganini’s concerto, he makes a strong case for taking the movement in that more relaxed way. And he begins Mendelssohn’s (Ferdinand David’s?) cadenza with a subtlety that’s virtually unmatched. The engineers seem to have placed Kreisler a bit farther back than he appeared in the later recording of Beethoven’s concerto, and the violin’s tone doesn’t emerge with as great a clarity. But they still managed to present the orchestra in enough detail to capture the listener’s attention in the transition to the slow movement, an Andante that allows Kreisler to be almost fully himself, combining nobility and grace. And the finale, slow as it may seem by later standards (or even Eugène Ysaÿe’s), never creates a sense of lumbering.

These performances have been well known for generations, but Dutton’s remasterings bring them alive once again. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Fritz Kreisler (Violin)
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/1936 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London 
Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Fritz Kreisler (Violin)
Conductor:  Landon Ronald
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1844; Germany 
Date of Recording: 04/08/1935 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London 

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