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Rodolphe KREUTZER (1766-1831)
40 Études ou Caprices pour violon (1796) [103:36]
Elizabeth Wallfisch (violin)
rec. 14 – 17 April 2003, Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, Melbourne, Australia DDD
CPO 999901-2 [56:25 + 47:11] 
Experience Classicsonline

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! 

It 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. 

These ÉtudesCaprices 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. 

There 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. 

Bob Briggs


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