> Homage to Fritz Kreisler [JW]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Homage to Fritz Kreisler
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)

Praeludium and Allegro
Schon Rosmarin
Caprice Viennois
Tambourin Chinois
La Chasse
La Gitana

WIENIAWSKI/KREISLER Caprice in E flat/Caprice in A minor
TARTINI/KREISLER Variations on a theme of Corelli
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Waltz in A flat

Jogashima no ame

J S BACH (1685-1750)


Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Ave Maria

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) arr KREISLER

Rondo from Divertimento No 17
Alfredo Campoli, violin
Eric Gritton, piano
Norihko Wada, piano (last seven items)
Recorded London 1955 and 1971 (last seven items)
ELOQUENCE DECCA 466 666-2 [77.15]

He is pictured triumphantly brandishing a playing card in his raised right hand whilst the others fan out in his shirt-sleeved left. In his grinning mouth is clamped a cigar the size of a small town. His eyes are flecked with pleasure, big moon face heavily jowelled and hair, such as he now possesses, greying. He is Alfredo Campoli. Cigar chomping, bridge and tennis playing Campoli recorded for Decca for over forty years and his earliest Kreisler recordings date from 1931. In addition to the performances on this new Decca reissue he recorded the odd piece down the years with Sidney Crooke, Gerald Moore and organist supreme Sidney Torch as well as Harold Pedlar, his 1931 accompanist.

To commemorate Fritz Kreisler’s 80th birthday in 1955 Decca turned to Campoli and his accompanist of a decade, the excellent Eric Gritton, to record an album of Kreisler favourites and bon bons. The two fiddle players had first met in London but in 1952 when Campoli had undertaken his first American tour they met again and over lunch discussed Campoli’s projected re-recording of the Paganini-Kreisler first Violin Concerto – maybe they also discussed the composition of a tribute album which, in the event, is fairly standard Kreisler fare. Campoli’s Kreislerian aesthetic is, in general, sweet toned, reflective, unassertive and affectionate. He prefers tempos bordering on the sedate, seldom over inflates the melodic line with faux-sentimentality and largely resists pouring rich tonal sauce where it’s unnecessary. He is fleet when occasion demands it, technically adroit, tonally attractive and frequently convincing stylistically. The Praeludium and Allegro opens deliberately – precise articulation and bowing, with some unusually slow passages and certainly not with the heart stopping climax that some violinists make of it. Liebesleid – a typo has it as Liebeslied as so often – is one of the most sheerly affectionate performances on the disc and again slow. Gritton shows his musical mettle in Liebesfreud in a performance of relaxation but some considerable and intelligently, never mechanically, applied rubato. It’s good to have Campoli’s Polichinelle Serenade, a piece frequently overlooked in recitals of this kind. Good rubato again is a feature of Schon Rosmarin whilst Campoli disdains to make the outrageous slide in Caprice Viennois as smeary and oily as it can sometimes be – there is also some succulent playing here.

There is some tremendous bowing in Tambourin Chinois though again the slow basic pulse is a distinctly Campolian feature-listen to his silvered tone. The two Wieniawski-Kreisler Caprices are also good to have, the E flat moderately paced and cleanly played and good, the second fleet, with excellent passagework. Campoli’s effortless charm is well deployed in the Kreisler Beethoven Rondino – this master of light music knew exactly when to relax and push tempi. La Chasse is an exceptionally difficult – Lionel Tertis, who admired Campoli enormously, always said that his own viola recording of La Chasse was his favourite disc – and Campoli certainly gets to grips with the bowing problems though maybe this is not an optimally galvanizing performance. In La Gitana we can hear the subtle tonal shadings Campoli employs, precisely controlled never indiscriminately deployed and there is some big and variegated tone here. The Granados Danse Espagnole is sweet rather than sensuous – sensuality wasn’t much in Campoli’s armoury and Jacques Thibaud’s brand of Granados playing was really not Campoli’s way – but we can still admire Campoli’s discreet portamenti, nicely graded. The Tartini begins bluffly and then erupts into some very quick playing with hints of aggression at phrase endings. The final seven items come from a 1971 album with the Japanese pianist Norihko Wada. The acoustic is now much more resonant and veiling. I admired the expressive playing in the Albeniz Tango and the first of the Japanese pieces, Yamada’s Akatonbo, with its episodes of skittishness and stateliness. Elsewhere in these well known pieces Campoli is lyrical and affecting and whilst Wada is somewhat recessed in the balance we can hear Campoli’s Arioso in all its unforced eloquence, very much a quality I would attribute to his playing in general.

I admire Campoli enormously – his Elgar Concerto is outstanding – and this Eloquence disc might almost have been named for the violinist himself. There are other Kreisler discs more kinetic, more brimful of personality, more quicksilver, more tonally resplendent but few are more honestly and incomparably eloquent.

Jonathan Woolf




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