Rodolphe KREUTZER (1766-1831)
Violin Concerto No. 17 in G [16:59]
Violin Concerto No. 18 in E minor [28:52]
Violin Concerto No. 19 in D minor [25:54]
Axel Strauss (violin)
San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra/Andrew Mogrelia
rec. 21, 23, 26, 28 January, 2, 4 February 2009, Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, San Francisco, USA
NAXOS 8.570380 [71:45]

Rodolphe Kreutzer was a name completely new to me before this disc. Well, not completely: there is Beethovenís ďKreutzerĒ sonata, dedicated to Rodolphe, who refused to play it because, as a matter of personal philosophy, he never played staccato notes. These concertos are just the kind of genial, pleasing works one would expect from a violinist who took that view. Kreutzerís are some of the best violin concertos from the ďFrench schoolĒ of the late classical era. They have the virtues of brevity, simple scoring, appealing tunes, utterly wonderful violin writing, and a genial, generous sense of heart. Iíll be honest: I love this budget price CD.

The Concerto No. 17 in G is a sunny work dotted with wind solos; the orchestra gets only a minute to itself before the violin breaks in and starts singing its heart out. The finale is the standout movement here: itís a toe-tapper of a movement - a Spanish bolťro, apparently - in which the violinís big tune comes over dancing orchestral strings. Granted, there is nothing in the concerto which challenges the ear, but only because it is so effortlessly pleasing. This is music to reach for on a sunny morning, or a morning you wish were sunny, or when you are about to sit down to pay the bills and want something cheerier playing in the background.

No. 18 in E minor tries to keep a straight face for a while, but before even a minute has passed Kreutzer lets his guard down and smiles at us for a moment. Then the full tutti of the opening returns to clear the way for the violinís melancholic entry with its own secretive theme. That poetic entry is one of the really distinctive moments in the concerto; the other comes when the first movementís development gives way to a dark, dramatic grave passage from 8:28 to 9:35.

No. 19 is a game attempt at a cyclical work; the slow movement presents as its main tune a major-key variation on the dramatic D minor subject which gets the first movement off to an eye-opening start. More importantly, though, it is the best concerto on the disc. The striking themes in the first movement fight for the violinistís affections; the andante is beautiful and includes a wonderfully done cadenza, vindicating my belief that cadenzas in slow movements are a very good idea.

Axel Strauss is a great soloist for this music, with the kind of generous romantic heart and full-bodied tone needed to adhere to Kreutzerís style. Remember, this was a composer who, according to the liner-notes, played everything legato and refused to touch music, like Beethovenís, which demanded otherwise. Strauss sounds completely at home, and he especially distinguishes himself at moments like the tender entrance of the violin in No. 18 and the cadenza in No. 19ís slow movement. The San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra, a student group, occasionally sound a little thin in the violins - especially at the beginning of No. 17 - but are more than adequate in every other department. They are yet another proof, alongside the orchestras of the Shepherd School (Rice University, Texas) and Frost School (University of Miami, Florida), that the ensembles of major American conservatories maintain staggeringly high standards. Andrew Mogrelia is a sensitive conductor whose considerable experience as an accompanist is to the discís benefit. The sound quality is very good; Axel Strauss is at the forefront, but not to the detriment of the orchestra.

There is another disc of Kreutzerís concertos available at present, a CPO album featuring violinist Albrecht Breuninger. That recording received some positive reviews, including a tentative recommendation on this site, but I unfortunately have not heard it. Perhaps it is a logical next step - though this Naxos CD is the beginning of a complete cycle. Kreutzerís music is all about lyricism, purity of tone, and beauty of expression, and the only challenge it poses lies in trying to turn the CD player off, especially given as sympathetic a friend as Axel Strauss. If you love the violin, or have enjoyed the string concertos of Mozart, Haydn, Viotti, or Pierre Rode, you will find yourself, like me, eagerly awaiting the rest of this promising series.

Brian Reinhart

Lovely violin concertos which have me waiting for the rest of the series.