Notes and Editorial Reviews
FROM FRITZ TO DJANGO: BENJAMIN SCHMID PLAYS FRITZ KREISLER
Benjamin Schmid (vn); Miklos Skuta (pn);
Biréli Lagrène (gtr);
Georg Breinschmid (db)
OEHMS 701 (65:10)
Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta.
Chanson Louis XIII et Pavane.
Improvisations on Kreisler:
Prelude, Allegro, and Blues; Perpetual Love’s Joy; Liebesfreud; Liebesleid; Sweet Rosmarin; The Old Refrain
Benjamin Schmid and Miklos Skuta recorded their “straight” Kreisler on November 27 and 28, 2000. According to Schmid’s notes, the idea for the five tracks of improvisations—which he and his colleagues completed on May 3, 2006—arose during a jazz concert’s intermission: improvising with Biréli Lagrène, he discovered that the guitar player knew and cherished Fritz Kreisler’s violin pieces, just as he himself did Django Reinhardt’s work. When Georg Breinschmid “jumped right in,” the idea was born—after all, Fritz Kreisler himself had arranged the music he loved “according to his taste.”
First on the CD come the performances of Kreisler pieces and arrangements, but not the very most famous ones. Those appear later, in the set of improvisations. The
Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta
, a late work from 1947 (Kreisler actually recorded it) recalls the early
, but enveloped in an atmospheric mist. Someone once described its harmonies as far advanced into the world of Schoenberg, but it’s more retrospective and incomparably more conservative than even the tamest passages in
. Schmid recalls the era it commemorates with a
of whipped cream. Then, shifting gears, he plays the
with a piquant rhythmic zest that should remind listeners that Kreisler played his own music with fabled tangy springiness. Schmid’s and Skuta’s performance of
displays a similar joyous freedom, while Kreisler’s arrangement of Cyril Scott’s
indulges within the limits of its chant-like declamation a more impressionistic sensibility. With uncanny stylistic adaptability, Schmid’s breathless in Falla’s
, wistful in Krakauer’s
, tantalizing in Paderewski’s familiar Menuett, tearful in Heuberger’s
(Kreisler claimed to have given his friend the idea for the melody), chaste then tart in
Chanson Louis XIII et Pavane
, and ardent in Gluck’s
—none quite the same as the last or the next number in the program. To discern the character of each of these contrasting pieces required a sort of penetration that even some of the greatest violinists have lacked in this repertoire.
The recorded sound changes from bright to slightly veiled in the transition from the pieces themselves to the improvisations. The first of these, on the Praeludium and Allegro, opens with a virtuosic cadenza before plunging into the miniature itself, which begins with Kreisler’s own passagework and merges slowly (and slyly) yet unreservedly into a daring world of improvisation that may fleetingly recall that of Grappelli and Reinhardt but enjoys a fascinating life of its own, all before returning to a verisimilar facsimile of Kreisler’s prototype. There follows an infectious Blues that hews closer to Django’s line, replete with hot licks worthy of the Master himself. Schmid isn’t a stiff partner, as Menuhin always seemed with Grappelli, but engages wholeheartedly, and can confidently take the lead, in the dialogue.
Perpetual Love’s Joy
begins with a jazzed up version of Paganini’s
(which Kreisler also arranged) before plunging into a heady takeoff on the famous
begins more directly, importing some of the original’s Viennese
into the mellowest of improvisations.
proves a similarly felicitous springboard for the trio’s improvisatory fancy. But the last word may be the best:
appears in a lazy, easygoing arrangement that Kreisler himself might have admired, and this track alone would justify the price of the entire CD. Others, like Leonidas Kavakos (BIS 1196, 24:6) have brought a strong individuality to Kreisler, but Schmid offers personality galore as well as some very enjoyable and original pastiches that no admirer of Kreisler the violinist or Kreisler the musical personality can afford to pass up. I only wish many more collections would follow. In any case, Kreisler at his best, as he appears here, should be required listening for everybody.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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