Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: No. 19 in d; No. 18 in e; No. 15 in A
Laurent Albrecht Breuninger (vn); Alun Francis, cond; SWR RO Kaiserlautern
CPO 777-188 (79:47)
Bert Hagels’s notes to cpo’s release of three of Rodolphe Kreutzer’s violin concertos trace the changes in concert programs that led to the virtual abandonment of the virtuoso (or at least violinist-composed) violin concerto in favor of its more symphonic successor. Kreutzer’s concertos, like the earlier ones by Giovanni Battista Viotti, led, on the other hand, more directly to works like the concertos of Paganini, Vieuxtemps, and Wieniawski, rather than to those of the Beethoven-Brahms-Tchaikovsky type, written by pianists (although Beethoven played the violin). I recently reviewed Talent’s release (2911 126,
33: 1) of Kreutzer’s Ninth and 13th concertos, in addition to two shorter pieces by the composer, played by Saskia Lethiec with José Ferreira Lobo and the Portuguese Orchestra of the North and the Versailles Conservatory Instrumental Ensemble. This generous release from cpo makes three more of Kreutzer’s 19 more readily available. If Kreutzer’s reputation today rests on his set of 40 (42) studies (and less upon his later, more difficult, set of 19), it should be clear by now to general listeners as well as to violin students who have played at least one of the concertos that he must have cut a dashing figure as a soloist as well as an impressive one as a composer.
Kreutzer’s 19th Concerto, with which the program opens, features the typical imposing introductory tutti familiar from Viotti’s models, as well as a similarity in the florid violin writing. At the turn of the last century, Paul Stoeving remarked in
The Story of the Violin
that the passage reigned supreme in Viotti’s concertos; that might be said as well of Kreutzer’s concertos, but these passages sound both more complex in their violinistic demands and more varied in their patterns, instrumental as well as harmonic. But the first movement also includes passages in a style of cantilena that rivals Viotti’s. Laurent Albrecth Breuninger plays the challenging passagework with almost aggressively assured brilliance and the cantilena with glowing tone, while the orchestra effectively highlights the score’s occasional pathos and colorful instrumentation. The slow movement opens with a brief woodwind introduction, but the violin carries the affecting, occasionally richly ornamented, musical message throughout, although sometimes in dialogue. The finale, as do Viotti’s, combines a jaunty rondo theme with robust orchestral interjections and passages of heady virtuoso display. Breuninger evidences only very occasional awkwardness in the latter and seems to revel in the opportunities the work offers for pyrotechnics.
The 18th Concerto, the longest of the three on the program, also begins with a gloweringly dramatic orchestral introduction. It moves farther, perhaps, from Viotti’s straightforwardness than does the 19th Concerto, although it’s generally cast from the same mold and features a similar combination of thematic embellishment and patterned passagework. There’s also a dramatic recitative-like passage (accompanied here by tremolo) in what might pass as the movement’s development that prefigures the one in the first movement of Paganini’s First Concerto. Once again, the slow movement presents a simple song-like melody at the outset, one that in this case develops a great deal of its atmospheric potential before the end of the movement, an evolution in which Breuninger plays a central role. The finale sounds dramatically richer, too, replete with startlingly histrionic leaps from one register to another.
The 15th Concerto, the only one on the program in a major key, falls between the two others in length. The orchestration supports the solo’s melodic outpouring toward the beginning with a pizzicato that’s a striking touch in these pre-Paganini Romantic concertos. Still, Kreutzer indulged in the chains of trills familiar from Viotti’s concertos (and for which Kreutzer’s own studies would have prepared the soloist) as well as in a kind of ominous motive found in Viotti’s 22nd Concerto that Brahms perhaps echoed in his own concerto (Brahms and Joachim used to play Viotti’s 22nd Concerto together for entertainment). If some of the stentorian double-stops sound occasionally slightly off color in Breuninger’s performance, he still communicates a clear idea of the excitement Kreutzer’s listeners must have experienced. He’s authoritative in the cadenza near the end, though it doesn’t sound quite in the style, with its bird-like chirping in the highest registers. The slow movement explores the sonorous registers of the G string, but its simple profundity (recalling that of Beethoven’s Larghetto) rather than any timbral lushness will probably haunt listeners’ memory longest. The finale begins with an elegant theme rather than a piquant one, and the succeeding episodes have a melancholy tinge that might hardly be expected in a concerto cast in such a bright major key.
Those who find Viotti’s and Pierre Rode’s concertos exhilarating should enthusiastically welcome these as well. Strongly recommended to them, but also to others who aren’t averse to being swept away on occasion by a charismatic soloist (here, both Kreutzer and Breuninger qualify as that).
FANFARE: Robert Maxham