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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rondo Brillant in B minor, D895 (1827) [14:25]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A major (1886) [29:43]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G; Movement II Blues (1923-27) [6:08]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Sonata No.2, Sz76 BB85 (1922) [21:06]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
MOZ-art, for two violins (1976) [8:12]
Gidon Kremer (violin)
Elena Kremer (violin)
Oleg Maisenberg (piano)
rec. 1 June 1974 (Ravel); 16 May 1976 (Schnittke); 14 February 1978 (Schubert and Franck); 24 March 1978 (Bartók), Dvořák Hall, Prague
PRAGA DIGITALS PRD250317 [78:44]

Praga has already released a slew of recordings made by Gidon Kremer in Prague in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, in its ‘Genuine Stereo Lab’ marque – no explanation is provided for this trendy nomenclature – comes a sequence of radio broadcasts all of which, I assume, have been released before in some form. Certainly the Bartók sonata, taped on 24 March 1978, was last out on this label (250 038). The February 1978 Franck does not, however, seem to be the same performance as the one to be found on 250 024, which claims a date of 18 June 1980.

Kremer’s colleague throughout is Oleg Maisenberg and their Franck reading is individualist though never quite cavalier with regard to structure. It’s certainly a phrasally elastic performance and not one that could at all be described as Gallic in orientation. Maisenberg’s occasionally domineering presence is matched by Kremer’s absorbingly intricate and passionately intimate approach. Coupled with his endemic thinness of tone this renders his playing vulnerable, in conception and indeed in execution, finely though he plays. The extremity of the dynamic gradients in the Recitativo-Fantasia alerts the listener to the fact that the two men see the sonata almost as a study in extremes of reflectiveness and self-assertion. Given that Kremer lacks a big, variegated tone he relies instead on micro-changes in colour, dynamics and tempi. This is an interesting experiment but not always an especially convincing one.

Schubert’s Rondo Brilliant is a work to which he returned in 1990 for DG, but without Maisenberg. It’s not too discursive metrically, and has requisite brio in the Allegro, though it does lack tonal opulence. The Blues from Ravel’s Sonata was taped in June 1974 in the venue of choice for all these items, the Dvořák Hall. Here the two men take pleasure in evoking a slyly chaotic and stylistically extreme reading that leaves me very much missing the patrician hauteur of Francescatti and thinking that Kremer has largely missed the point of the stylisations in this movement. In all senses Bartók suits the violinist better: the tonal astringency, the driving rhythms, the folkloric hues. The snazzy spectral writing works very appealingly, whilst the febrile and impetuous aspects allow Kremer to concentrate on projection. This arresting journey is accompanied by eclectic rhythms and sonorities. Kremer-watchers will know he recorded this work for Hungaroton. Kremer and Schnittke go very well together and MOZ-art, for two violins, was taped with his then-wife Elena. Some excitable foot-stamps show that this is not simply a live studio performance but one given in heat before an appreciative audience.

These relatively early examples of Kremer’s art have been well served by Praga.

Jonathan Woolf



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