On the afternoon I received this new disc of Fritz Kreisler’s
violin music, I put it on the stereo with no intention of being
critical or taking notes for this review. I found it delightfully
easy to sit back and enjoy these sweet, wistful performances.
This album, featuring the Portuguese violinist Carlos Damas on
the Polish label Dux, does not fare quite as well when subjected
to critical scrutiny. Certainly it does not challenge the historical
recordings of Kreisler himself, but it nevertheless has considerable
charms. You could argue that this music is not meant for the analytical
ear anyway, and this cheery, heartfelt album would serve handily
Carlos Damas and pianist Ana Tomasik make an excellent duo
in these performances. The playing by Damas can be a bit ‘rough
around the edges’ with unpolished attack and enthusiastic
playing that gets in the way of technical perfection. His
harmonics have a slightly scratchy tone, but the most important
thing is that his heart is in the music. His charm in works
like Poldini’s Poupée Valsante overcomes all objections.
This music wears an almost permanent smile, and appropriately
so do these performances. Damas can really sing big tunes,
too, as in both works entitled Serenade Espagnol -
one by Chaminade, the other by Glazunov. Tomasik’s accompaniment
is very fine, though she is not exactly the star of this program.
few qualms must be raised. First, the recorded sound is very
bright, perhaps too much so. Second, the microphones are placed
closely enough that one can occasionally hear Damas breathing;
I was never particularly bothered by this but some listeners
will be; Damas is not one for quiet breath intake in the heat
of performance. The playing time of this disc is under an
hour, but some of the best Kreisler works are missing, most
glaringly my personal favorite, Liebesleid. Maybe a
second volume is on the way? Perhaps least fortunate a circumstance
is the state of the liner-notes: a booklet containing biographies
of the composer and performers but no information whatsoever
about the music itself; and no detail on the recording sessions.
There are, however, some beautiful photographs of Fritz Kreisler’s
there are superior collections of Kreisler’s exquisite music.
The most obvious is that recorded by the composer-transcriber
himself, but if sound quality is a concern I am also fond
of an Analekta disc featuring the brilliant James Ehnes and
pianist Eduard Laurel. Ehnes’ way with this music is just
as expressive and he is just as charming as Damas. The Canadian
is also equipped with a sweeter, more purely beautiful tone.
Another major difference is in repertoire: Ehnes devotes quite
a bit of space to Kreisler’s baroque-style works - Corelli
variations, the transcribed Devil’s Trill Sonata - while Damas
opts for a grab-bag of more romantic compositions like La
Gitana, Aucassin et Nicolette, and the Miniature
Viennese March. There is certainly room for both albums
on your shelf. After all, this music is nearly impossible
to play without feeling. Though Carlos Damas is no James Ehnes,
let alone a Fritz Kreisler, he is a performer with heart.
Listening to this disc was, and shall continue to be, a pleasure.