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Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Russian and Slavonic Miniatures – all arrangements by Fritz Kreisler
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Hymn to the Sun from The Golden Cockerel [4.15]
Oriental Dance [4.35]
Scheherazade – Arab Song [4.31]
Chant Hindou from Sadko [3.24]
Fantasy (on various themes) [9.06]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Songs My Mother Taught Me; Gypsy Melodies [2.57]
Slavonic Dance No.1 - Op.46 No.2 [3.34]
Slavonic Dance No.2 – Op.72 No.10 [5.08]
Slavonic Dance No.3 – Op.72 No.16 [3.34]
Sonatina Op.100 – Larghetto “Indian Lament” [4.41]
Humoresque Op.101 No.7 [2.53]
Slavonic Fantasy [5.05]
Symphony No.9 –Largo “Negro Spiritual Melody”  [5.31]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Scherzo from Souvenir de Hapsal [4.10]
Humoresque – Deux Morceaux Op.10 No.2 [2.24]
Chant sans paroles from Souvenir de Hapsal [3.23]
Andante cantabile from String Quartet No.1 [5.32]
Nicolas Koeckert (violin)
Milana Chernyavska (piano)
Recorded in the Clara-Wieck-Suditorium, Sandhausen, December 2003
NAXOS 8.557388 [76.47]



I assume that Nicolas is a scion of the famed quartet leader Koeckert because there seems to be strong violinist blood in his veins – though the connection is never made explicit in the biographical notes. If so he would doubtless have inherited, if one follows genetic principles, a discreet and intense appreciation of rhythm and balance in chamber playing. When it comes to Kreisler’s transcriptions questions of tonal nuance, rubati, slides and period expressive devices also come into play. Great individualists who have essayed the Kreisler Songbook – from Elman to Szeryng and Shumsky, to name three to whom I’ve been listening to recently, have all managed to retain individuality whilst evincing a natural and rich appreciation of the ethos, even at its most indulgent in Elman’s case.

Naxos has concentrated on “Russian and Slavonic miniatures”, so-called. In effect this means Dvořák, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky. These are almost all exceedingly well-known pieces – with the proviso that some will not have heard the Slavonic Fantasy, concocted from Dvořák, the Rimsky Fantasy, or the Dvořák Ninth Symphony Largo in its arrangement for violin and piano. The others are, if not staples of the encore repertoire, at least hugely loved and it’s pleasurable to listen to them en bloc here.

Koeckert has been accorded a rather spread acoustic in the Clara-Wieck-Suditorium, which means there’s a certain diffuseness of sound. What is odd is that, added to the spread (which one would have thought implied distance), we can hear close up sniffs from the violinist. Other than that, though, the recording is reasonable enough though it’s not one over which one could remotely rave (like some of Naxos’ solo piano discs in fact). Koeckert is by and large a jaunty, extrovert player with a tone that never really takes on a burnished hue. His Dvořák Humoresque is cocksure and quick whilst that by Tchaikovsky sounds rather flippant next to a Kreislerian of great stature such as Shumsky. Chant sans paroles is up to tempo but he does very little with it; no warmth gives life to it, no rubati or metrical displacements; not much sense really of any colouristic affinity or affection.

The Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s Quartet sounds attractively elfin with Koeckert abjuring depth of tone and inflexions of vibrato but overall I find playing of this kind, whilst proficient and in many ways laudably straight, rather non-committal and stylistically inapt. Try Tchaikovsky’s Scherzo as a test case; you’ll either find it smooth, elegant, dextrous and gimlet eyed or you’ll find it inert, undramatic and unvisited by colour changes. If you feel the latter, turn to Shumsky’s performance for supporting evidence.

My feelings are pretty consistent; thoroughly proficient, well-executed, well supported by his pianist, and avoiding easy gestures and crude simplicities; thoughtful and discreet musicianship, in other words. But for me it misses the heart of these works with regularity. I’d recommend one of the eminent trio above (Szeryng may be hard to find, Elman sometimes hard to take) or better still Kreisler himself, many of whose recordings of these works are now available.

Jonathan Woolf






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