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Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Violin Miniatures and Transcriptions: Miniature Viennese March [2:53]; Gluck Melody (arr. Kreisler) [3:03]; Chaminade Serenade Espagnole (arr. Kreisler) [2:13]; Poldini Poupée Valsante (arr. Kreisler) [2:34]; Albéniz Malague[n]a (arr. Kreisler) [3:51]; Schumann Romance in A major (arr. Kreisler) [3:50]; La Gitana [3:01]; Schubert Impromptu Op. 90 No. 3 (arr. Kreisler) [5:46]; Menuetto in the Style of Pugnani [3:37]; Aucassin et Nicolette [2:17]; Syncopation [1:54]; Schön Rosmarin [1:57]; L. Couperin Precieuse (arr. Kreisler) [2:42]; Mendelssohn Song without Words (arr. Kreisler) [3:05]; Allegretto in the Style of Boccherini [3:16]; Glazunov Serenade Espagnole [2:50]; Liebesfreud [3:19]
Carlos Damas (violin); Anna Tomasik (piano)
rec. 2007, Lisbon, Portugal. DDD
DUX 0696 [52:06]  
Experience Classicsonline

On the afternoon I received this new disc of Fritz Kreisler’s violin music, I put it on the stereo with no intention of being critical or taking notes for this review. I found it delightfully easy to sit back and enjoy these sweet, wistful performances. This album, featuring the Portuguese violinist Carlos Damas on the Polish label Dux, does not fare quite as well when subjected to critical scrutiny. Certainly it does not challenge the historical recordings of Kreisler himself, but it nevertheless has considerable charms. You could argue that this music is not meant for the analytical ear anyway, and this cheery, heartfelt album would serve handily as proof.

Violinist Carlos Damas and pianist Ana Tomasik make an excellent duo in these performances. The playing by Damas can be a bit ‘rough around the edges’ with unpolished attack and enthusiastic playing that gets in the way of technical perfection. His harmonics have a slightly scratchy tone, but the most important thing is that his heart is in the music. His charm in works like Poldini’s Poupée Valsante overcomes all objections. This music wears an almost permanent smile, and appropriately so do these performances. Damas can really sing big tunes, too, as in both works entitled Serenade Espagnol - one by Chaminade, the other by Glazunov. Tomasik’s accompaniment is very fine, though she is not exactly the star of this program. 

A few qualms must be raised. First, the recorded sound is very bright, perhaps too much so. Second, the microphones are placed closely enough that one can occasionally hear Damas breathing; I was never particularly bothered by this but some listeners will be; Damas is not one for quiet breath intake in the heat of performance. The playing time of this disc is under an hour, but some of the best Kreisler works are missing, most glaringly my personal favorite, Liebesleid. Maybe a second volume is on the way? Perhaps least fortunate a circumstance is the state of the liner-notes: a booklet containing biographies of the composer and performers but no information whatsoever about the music itself; and no detail on the recording sessions. There are, however, some beautiful photographs of Fritz Kreisler’s personal violin. 

Yes, there are superior collections of Kreisler’s exquisite music. The most obvious is that recorded by the composer-transcriber himself, but if sound quality is a concern I am also fond of an Analekta disc featuring the brilliant James Ehnes and pianist Eduard Laurel. Ehnes’ way with this music is just as expressive and he is just as charming as Damas. The Canadian is also equipped with a sweeter, more purely beautiful tone. Another major difference is in repertoire: Ehnes devotes quite a bit of space to Kreisler’s baroque-style works - Corelli variations, the transcribed Devil’s Trill Sonata - while Damas opts for a grab-bag of more romantic compositions like La Gitana, Aucassin et Nicolette, and the Miniature Viennese March. There is certainly room for both albums on your shelf. After all, this music is nearly impossible to play without feeling. Though Carlos Damas is no James Ehnes, let alone a Fritz Kreisler, he is a performer with heart. Listening to this disc was, and shall continue to be, a pleasure.

Brian Reinhart




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