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Fritz Kreisler (violin)
The Bell Telephone Hour Recordings - Volume 1
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No 3 in G, K216: I. Allegro (1775)
Violin Concerto No 4 in D, K218: I. Allegro (1775)
Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824)
Violin Concerto No 22 in A minor, G97 (1793-95) arr. Fritz Kreisler
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64: I. Allegro molto appassionato (1844)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D, Op 77: II. Adagio (1878)
Max Bruch (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No 1 in G minor, Op 26: I. Vorspiel II. Adagio (1866)
Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra/Donald Voorhees
rec. 1944-50
BIDDULPH 85019-2 [75]

The Bell Telephone company sponsored a ‘Great Artists’ radio programme in the early 1940s which ran for decades. The conductor of its eponymous orchestra was Donald Voorhees and there’s an evocative centre-spread photograph printed in Biddulph’s booklet that shows Voorhees in shirt sleeves and Fritz Kreisler in waistcoat performing together in front of the NBC microphone. This inaugural release in the Kreisler series presents a concerto movement sequence, recorded on acetates, culled from the years 1944 to 1950, the year of his last broadcast. It presaged his retirement from public performance.

The only Mozart concerto he recorded in full was No 4, which he recorded twice, so the existence of the first movement of No 3 is a worthy addition to his discography, albeit he was now 75. The vibrato has slowed dramatically and though there are the familiar Kreisler slides allowance has to be made as one listens for vestiges of his tonal lustre. Probably the best played section is the cadenza which he’d clearly practised. Voorhees is a dutiful accompanist but the basses sound heavy, even galumphing. The Allegro of No 4 is better, because it was recorded five years earlier, the finger position changes more accurate even if Voorhees is again in pedantic mood.

Kreisler also never recorded Viotti’s Concerto No 22 in A minor so this composite performance – of which the opening movement dates from October 1945 and the second and third movements from eight months earlier – proves an attractive survivor. He is on good form for the time, though it would be idle to suppose that he was the enchanting, evocative performer of the mid-20s. Nevertheless, though clearly well past his best he plays his own expanded orchestration, and his first movement cadenza is remarkably good in the circumstances. The ardent expression in the central movement is notable and he negotiates a bracing, charming finale with some aplomb. It’s a fine souvenir of a work he’d intended to record in London a decade earlier.

Thenceforth we are on more familiar ground as he’d recorded the opening movement of the Mendelssohn twice before (July 1944). He’s flat at the beginning and quite scrappy but soon plays himself in although finger imprecisions recur. The Brahms Adagio is better, still imperfect in detail, but full of memories of his tonally refulgent beauty. The final work is by Bruch, the first and second movements of the G minor concerto. He’d recorded it in 1924 but it wasn’t issued, Kreisler giving the test pressings to Elgar. This October 1944 recording showcases his athletic musical instincts as well as his expressive cantilena though you’ll need that late acoustic, in all its imperfect sound, to get closer to the real Kreisler.

I think everything here, or almost everything, has been reissued before, though not in as good sound as here. The Mendelssohn and Mozart Concerto in D, for instance, are on Symposium 1282 and the second and third movements of the Viotti were on Archive Documents ADCD2004. Nevertheless, this Biddulph has been well transferred mitigating acetate noise and attractively presented with good notes. Far from it being a sad example of a technique in tatters, not least after Kreisler’s catastrophic 1941 road injury when he was left in a coma for months, it’s remarkable how enough emerges to reward the sympathetic, sensitive listener of the violinist’s charismatic greatness. Just be realistic and don’t expect the fabled tone very often.

Jonathan Woolf

Published: November 28, 2022

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