The pairing of musical giants in chamber music
can often result in ungracious ‘tugs-of-war’, but on this occasion,
the bringing together of the expressive genius of Fritz Kreisler
and the cool perfection of Rachmaninov delivers towering interpretations,
truly worthy of their legendary stature.
Once the ear has adjusted to the technical limitations
of recorded sound in the 1920s, this disc in the series of "Great
Chamber Music Recordings " provides the listener with 72
minutes and 50 seconds of unadulterated joy. Naxos and their skilful
transfer engineer, Mark Obert-Thorn, must be congratulated for
making this exceptional recording available once again.
Music is often glibly referred to as a ‘universal
language’ and this disc does not merely pay lip service to this
notion. Instead, it assiduously and successfully strives to reveal
the very core of the music and communicates all those sentiments
and emotions, which cannot be articulated in any other way. The
recorded music catalogue abounds with recordings of violin sonatas,
but I have rarely had the pleasure of listening to performances
of such sincerity.
We are treated to two performances of Beethoven’
s Violin Sonata No.8, the second comprising approved test pressings
kept as back-ups at the time.
The first movement Allegro Assai begins
urgently and with resolve. Each and every phrase is delicately
crafted and before long, one’s expectations are elevated way above
the merely elementary. Kreisler’s magical nuances and subtle inflections
are really a thing of beauty and Rachmaninov’s piano playing is
no less compelling. The evocative interplay between the piano
and violin in the Tempo di minuetto second movement commands
ones complete attention from the first to the very last note.
The joyous Allegro Vivace last movement positively dances,
with the subversive piano figurations expertly maximised.
The second, previously unpublished performance,
a mere three seconds longer, affords one the luxury of being able
to appreciate their combined musicianship one more time.
Schubert’s greatest gift was for lyricism and
no matter what he composed, it was inevitably endowed with supreme
beauty. It has often been suggested that his violin sonatas ought
not be numbered amongst his masterpieces, but the Sonata No.5
for Violin and Piano is nevertheless characterised by an uplifting
spontaneity and an abundance of haunting melody. Kreisler and
Rachmaninov are more than equal to the task of giving expression
to Schubert’s lyrical gift and the duo treats us to the most delicious
dialogues throughout. Their performance is permeated by an optimistic
air, which leaves one wanting more, much more, by the time they’ve
wrapped up the final allegro vivace.
Tully Potter’s excellent sleeve note reminds
us, in Rachmaninov’s own words, of the intense commitment required
to produce a recording of such superlative quality…. "Do
the critics who have praised those Grieg recordings so highly
realise the immense amount of hard work and patience necessary
to achieve such results? The six sides of the Grieg set we recorded
no fewer than five times each. From these thirty discs we finally
selected the best, destroying the remainder."
The C minor Sonata Op.45, probably the best known
of Grieg’s three sonatas for violin and piano, receives as full-blooded
a performance here as one could have hoped for. The duo achieves
an excellent rapport and the opulence of Kreisler’s violin tone
serves the music particularly well.
The declamatory opening of the Allegro
Molto ed Appassionato first movement is imbued with the requisite
ferocity and Rachmaninov effortlessly, but never disdainfully,
navigates Grieg’s virtuosic piano part. The expressive Allegro
espressivo all Romanza second movement begins icily, but soon
develops a searing warmth and a haunting expressive quality. A
truly energetic performance of the mesmeric Allegro animato
final movement brings this excellent CD to a brilliant conclusion.
No serious music lover, or indeed professional
violinist, should be without this recording.