Kreutzer was one of a dazzling breed of composer-executants who established the Parisian violin school as a European powerhouse. He, Rode and Baillot were born within five years of each other and each was to a large degree influenced by Viotti, an inescapable and omnipresent figure of the time, twenty years their senior. Together the three friendly rivals gave concerts and composed, usually for their own performances, and constituted a trio of imperishable brilliance and technical élan.
Kreutzer, who rose to become an honoured performer and an esteemed member of Napoleon’s musical inner circle, later turned to conducting as a result of breaking his arm, though this only ended his virtuoso career – he continued to play in the opera orchestra in Paris. He wrote lighter and heavier operas, many successful. He died in Geneva in 1831.
The three concertos here date from the first decade of the nineteenth century. Not unexpectedly he wrote no more concertos after breaking his arm in 1810 so this must be the latest date by which they could have been written. No. 19 in D minor has a deal of quasi-operatic patina in its orchestral introduction. There are plenty of contrasts, and overt virtuosity is a given considering the panache with which violin virtuosos of their time paraded their own strengths in this arena. The slow movement is rather conventional; it’s more of an Intermezzo than the announced Andante sostenuto, and the finale drives the soloist through the hoops of technical display with a modicum of lyricism thrown in.
The Eighteenth concerto – this disc presents the works in reverse order – is also laid out well with plenty of decisive material; note the orchestral pizzicati in the first movement supporting a pirouetting and interrogative solo violin line, for example. The slow movement here is more convincing than in the Nineteenth – it’s an aria-like cantabile, and the dynamic variance attests to the performers’s sensitivity to its charms. The finale harkens back slightly to Mozartian models as filtered through the emergent new French school. The A major [No.15] opens with some ingenious chugging momentum, and some strenuous passagework for the soloist. The slow movement reminds one in places of the similar movement in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, though its transmutation into the more eager, restless and virtuosically-inclined Parisian school is equally evident. It’s a cleverly constructed work, though not wholly individual in orientation.
The recording quality is perfectly fine. The intrepid soloist is Laurent Albrecht Breuninger who plays with maturity and style. There are times when he sounds a touch monochromatic, and tonally the lower strings don’t bring as much colour as one would ideally like. However he and Alun Francis and the orchestra make for a congenial and collegiate partnership.