> Fritz Kreisler - The Complete Concerto Recordings Vol.5 [JW]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Fritz Kreisler. The Complete Concerto Recordings. Volume 5
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Violin Concerto in E minor
Fritz Kreisler, violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Barbirolli
(Beethoven – June 1936) and Landon Ronald (Mendelssohn – April 1935)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110959 [69’48]


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Volume Five in Naxos’s Kreisler series takes us to the LPO recordings of 1935/36. These were remakes of his early electrics, made in Berlin almost a decade earlier and conducted by Leo Blech. All these classic performances have been reissued many times and debate generally centres on the superiority or otherwise of the Berlin sessions, the consensus being that the Beethoven fared better in Berlin whilst with the Mendelssohn honours are more even – and that’s a view I tend to share.

In the Beethoven the profile is that much tighter, Kreisler’s playing more centre-of-the-note, in Berlin, than it was later to become. That said there is a huge amount to admire and enjoy in this later performance and it still ranks amongst the finest ever committed to disc. Listen to Kreisler’s delicious slide at 5’08 in the first movement – but despite his infinite tonal shadings and prodigious bowing effects this is otherwise rather clean playing with expressive devices beautifully subsumed into the soloist’s line. Maybe, being hypercritical, one can fault him at 10’30 – this is not infallible playing by any means – but as Kreisler’s friend Jacques Thibaud once remarked "do you go to concerts to listen to the wrong notes?" Certainly he is slow – predictably yet triumphantly – at 12’00, and very much in line with prevailing performance practice. The Larghetto has rather more surface noise than is ideal but that doesn’t stop appreciation of Kreisler in all his tonal glory from basking in the very romantic plush of John Barbirolli’s conducting. Maybe the fires burn a little less brightly in the rondo finale but Kreisler’s diminuendo before the orchestral tuttis are unforgettable and within Barbirolli’s very emphatic conducting the soloist spins a succulent line.

I recently reviewed a contemporaneous recording, also issued by Naxos, of Szigeti’s Mendelssohn Concerto conducted by Beecham. Here Kreisler is partnered by his old colleague, Landon Ronald, supposedly the greatest Elgarian conductor, after the composer himself. The two had in fact recorded Mozart’s K218 in 1924, a late acoustic and a fine performance. Rather better than Szigeti - and at a somewhat surprisingly slightly quicker tempo – Kreisler vests the music with comprehensive tonal resources; Ronald is an excellent foil for his soloist’s sweetness and wizardly summoning up of varieties of tonal lustre and expressive devices. His bowing is still remarkable and if we ignore some more or less insignificant slips – including one very bad one at 7’50 in the first movement cadenza – this is still a thoroughly convincing and abundantly affectionate performance. On balance it’s as good as the earlier recording in Berlin and, in better sound, with greater orchestral clarity, a most recommendable recording.

Jonathan Woolf

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