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Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962)
Russian and Slavonic Miniatures - Transcriptions for Violin and Piano

Nicolas Koeckert (violin), Milana Chernyavska (piano)
rec. Clara-Wieck-Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany, 14-16 December 2003
NAXOS 8.557388 [76:47]

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]

Seventy-six-plus minutes of transcriptions by Fritz Kreisler – isn’t that too much of a good thing? Not necessarily, and especially not when the programming is so sensible as it is here, mixing melodic and the sometimes sentimental and elegiac with the more obviously virtuosic. The three composers represented here, born within a five-year timespan, had much in common regarding their melodic gift and – at least in the case of Dvořák and Tchaikovsky – melancholy, not unlike Kreisler’s own in the many nostalgic Viennese pieces he composed. Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 2, for instance, could just as well have been written by Kreisler.

The programme is performed by the young German violinist Nicolas Koeckert, accompanied by Ukrainian born pianist Milana Chernyavska. Koeckert’s musical CV is an impressive read with several top-prizes in sundry competitions. The name Koeckert possibly also rings a bell for older collectors and concert-goers. Legendary Rudolf Koeckert (b. 1913) founded his own string quartet in 1939, which worked for many years, at least well into the 1970s when his son Joachim also joined it. The quartet recorded extensively; among many other things they made a complete Beethoven cycle for DG in the 1950s. Rudolf Koeckert also had a career as a solo violinist. Although the booklet text doesn’t explicitly say so I suspect that Nicolas (b. 1979) is the third generation in this family of violinists.

And he is undoubtedly a gifted player, technically assured with fine warm tone and careful over his phrasing. And the pianist, although she plays a secondary role in a recital of this kind, is sensitive and flexible. She is delicious in Songs my mother taught me (track 3), to mention just one instance. Of course it is risky for a young player, however accomplished, to take on repertoire so closely associated with a personality like Kreisler, so immediately recognizable and whose playing has been the norm for generations of listeners. However, generally speaking he is very successful and he follows the traditions of the master in stressing charm, lyrical qualities, lightness of touch while there is no lack of momentum in the livelier pieces. Once or twice one can feel a more mechanical delivery. Dvořák’s famous Humoresque sounds rushed and unnecessarily jaunty, compared to Kreisler’s own more relaxed, more fluently elegant view, but the concluding double stops are finely executed. That said I may well be over-sensitive in this repertoire: these pieces were my father’s favourites and. Kreisler’s rendering of them has, for more than fifty years, been etched into my musical memory.

This kind of "light" music sometimes tends to be over-sophisticated, over-interpreted in the hands of "serious" musicians wanting to make their point. Nicolas Koeckert avoids that by being utterly natural, letting the music speak for itself and not trying to use it as a self-display vehicle. It is very easy to like this disc, not least for the opportunity to hear pieces that are not often performed or recorded. Even Kreisler did not record all of them – and there are certainly gems here:

The Negro Spiritual Melody is the cor anglais theme from the Largo of the New World Symphony, a melody that has acquired the status of folk-song, sung on an old EP in my early collection by Poul Robeson as "Goin’ Home". It is played here with restraint and all the light and shade needed, a beautiful interpretation, while Tchaikovsky’s Scherzo (track 4), a new acquaintance - a kind of Perpetuum mobile with a melodious and somewhat sad mid-section - shows Koeckert as a more outgoing fiddler, enjoying himself greatly. Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances are also charming, originally written for piano duo but known mainly in orchestral garb. Of the more famous Kreisler settings, Hymn to the Sun (track 1) and Hindou Song (track 12) are among the best tracks and Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile, originally a string quartet movement, is another highlight.

Maybe the last ounce of personality is missing; maybe also, in the end, one can feel that 76 minutes of small pieces without much in the way of bold harmonics is a little too much. It is all so well-behaved and soft-edged, but that’s more Kreisler’s fault than that of the artists. In any event who said that one must listen to the whole disc in one sitting?

Kreisler’s own recordings are of course indispensable (see recent review of his 1936-38 discs), but I can’t think that anyone wanting this charming music very well played in excellent modern sound and at an affordable price would be disappointed. It will be interesting to follow Koeckert’s career but on this evidence he seems well equipped to be a significant contender in an already crowded field.

Göran Forsling

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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