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Rodolphe KREUTZER (1766-1831)
Forty-Two studies for Unaccompanied Violin (integral) (1796) [120:50]
Cihat Aşkin (violin)
rec. 12 October 2003, MIAM Studios, Istanbul
First Integral Recording
KALAN CD 377 [51:30 + 69:20]



What we enjoy about the etudes from various composers - what makes them a success regarding listening pleasure - is that one forgets that they are written to teach; to aid in the proper execution of certain technique. There are great successes in this genre, Chopin being the most obvious first example. Other series of etudes have been committed to disc and record, more due to the name of their composer rather than great artistic merit. Some such etudes were put to paper simply to teach and this becomes readily apparent as one listens.

We have here is the first integral recording of the Kreutzer studies for Violin. Kreutzer, known by name to the widest audience due to Beethoven’s dedicating his 9th violin sonata to him, was, as a smaller percentage of the populace knows, the pinnacle of violin virtuosity in his time. Little of his work appears to be available currently — nocturnes for harp and violin, an oboe quintet, and Koch Classics had an oboe concerto available at one time — but his output included music for ballet and other stage productions, and, as the liner-notes indicate, nearly fifty operas, seventeen string quartets, and twelve sonatas for violin and bass, to give only a very selective list. 

The present influential studies show a craft-based and classical approach to the violin, with the first 22 studies focusing on the basics. There are moments here that are beautiful, such as the first track, in A minor; a study in sostenuto and sustaining long notes with swelling dynamic range. This piece haunts, with the mournful melodic line coming into being seemingly from nowhere, then dying off. Another standout is the seventeenth study, which is part of the series from 15 to 22 dealing with trills, which seems to forget it’s an etude and plays on with a contagious joyfulness. Much here smacks of the practice room — the second and third studies being primary examples — with arpeggiations and bowing exercises that have limited ability to hold interest for repeated listenings.

Disc two opens with a cadenza study, which has moments of beauty, but the runs move back to the practice room. The following studies, 24 and 25, deal with fingered octaves, the first of the two provides the most interest, with a tense grittiness. The following study breaks the octaves, and, though the difficulty of the piece is apparent, the general listener sitting on the couch isn’t likely to get much repeated enjoyment from it. Things do get more interesting as disc two progresses. The standouts here are study 30, which is of a cadenza-like nature, with ornaments that occasionally call Vivaldi to mind. Number 31 also catches the attention with its arresting concerto-like entrance. The two-voiced study 36 continues a varied staccato melody with bowed accompaniment that as a whole moves us well beyond conservatory exercises and into the land of what later became the concert etude. The final study gives us the best sense of that land, with a Bach-like fugue and the absence of “etude-ism.” 

Cihat Aşkin, who was born in and studied in Istanbul, plays through these difficult pieces with seeming ease The recording aesthetic is clear, if not particularly spacious, which gives a good sense of intimacy. The sound quality varies somewhat between the two discs, with the beginning of disc one sounding somehow a bit more distant and drier, but not so much as to make this distracting. Aşkin’s tone and playing are admirable. I hope to see more recordings of his available in the near future.

Overall, aside from violin enthusiasts, this release, though well-performed and recorded, holds limited potential for repeated listenings and often gives one the impression that a conservatory has set up next door echoing with arpeggiations and scales. Perhaps soon we could get some of Kreutzer’s works that were originally intended for public performance — this disc may raise interest in such projects, if only a bit …

David Blomenberg







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