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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
Violin Sonata No.8 in G major, Op.30, No.3
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)

Violin Sonata No.5 in A major, D.574
Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)

Violin Sonata No.3 in C minor, Op.45
Fritz Kreisler (violin)
Sergey Rachmaninov (piano)
Recorded 1928 - Victor Studios, Camden New Jersey. Victor Studios, New York City and Electrola Studios, Berlin.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110968 [72:50]


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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The second, previously unpublished performance, a mere three seconds longer, affords one the luxury of being able to appreciate their combined musicianship one more time.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.

Leon Bosch



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