No sooner had I got over my shock at the quality of music presented
by David Popper’s High School of Cello Playing (Forty Etudes),
op.73 (1901/1905) on two Naxos CDs – Naxos 8.557718/19 – than
through my letterbox dropped this 2 CD set of a further 40 Etudes.
This time they are for violin and were written by the dedicatee
of Beethoven’s famous Violin Sonata No.9 which bears the
name of our present composer. Years after the death of both men
Berlioz claimed that the violinist had described the piece as
“outrageously unintelligible”. These Études are Kreutzer’s best known works,
but he also wrote nineteen Violin Concertos and thirty
original operas and was co–composer of another twelve!
was with Kreutzer’s arrival in Paris, in 1781, that the modern
French school of violin playing was established. His innovations
in technique and playing style necessitated the final modifications
on the road to the modern violin. Thus Elizabeth Wallfisch’s
performance of these works on a 1750 Petrus Paulus de Vitor
violin, with a 1782 bow by Daniel Parker, are given on an instrument
built before the structural changes of the early 19th
century. In theory, then, neither are designed nor suitable
for the purpose of these pieces. This is nonsense for in her
hands this music springs to life. These works show the beauty
of the instrument and just how technique has enabled Wallfisch
to use this slightly older instrument.
Études–Caprices are more than studies,
as the title would suggest. Their playing times sometime extend
as far as five minutes plus, thus allowing the composer to delight
himself in some development of his material whilst at the same
time giving the fiddler the work-out he/she needs. In his note
in the booklet, Bert Hagels describes the function of each piece.
Numbers 1 to 13 test “phrasing variants and bowing styles in
various combinations” whilst numbers 30 to 40 show “multistops
in a wide range of different contexts”. As we progress through
the set it is fascinating to hear the development of both technical
aspects of playing and the compositional style.
is much to both enjoy and admire in this set, not least Ms Wallfisch’s
advocacy for the music. As with the Popper Études I am not quite sure how often I would return to these disks for repeated
listening. Perhaps the people who will gain most from this recording
are violinists themselves or those who are fascinated by this
period of musical development. Either way, it’s an interesting
and stimulating recording which cannot be ignored.