Henri VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)
Works For Solo Violin
Etudes Nos 7,25,27,28 and 32 Op.48 [16:20]
Six Morceaux Op.55 [28:01]
La Chasse Op.32 No.3 [7:40]
Six Etudes de Concert Op.16 [21:42];
Reto Kuppel (violin)
rec. Bathanienkirche. Leipzig, March-July 24 2014
NAXOS 8.573339 [74:10]
Henri Vieuxtemps was a violin prodigy, who became a towering figure in a line of violinist-composers that stretches from Viotti to Ysa˙e. Influenced in part by Paganini, the solo violin works of Vieuxtemps require a consummate technical wizardry and the ability to sing out in the more relaxed passages. In my review of a previous release of Reo Kuppel’s recording of the solo violin music of Ferdinand David (Naxos 8.573048i) I said: “Straightaway it must be acknowledged that the playing of Reto Kuppel is absolutely sensational and his violin is recorded in very analytical, close sound”. Kuppel’s playing in these works by Vieuxtemps is equally sensational with the added benefit a more appealing resonant sound from the warmer acoustic of the Bethanienkirche in Leipzig.
It’s a shame that Naxos didn’t give us the complete Etudes Op.48 but we have to be grateful for the 6 excerpts offered here. The opening lilting Allegro moderato immediately showcases the soloist’s beautiful singing tone and flexible phrasing. Torment and Agitato are horrendously virtuosic in nature, teeming with double stopping and rapid passage work that takes the breath away. The Moderato gives the listener a movement of solace and the selection finishes with a short set of variations.
The Six Morceaux were written as the composer’s homage to J. S. Bach. This music is far more substantial and serious, when compared to the Etudes. These are no mere showpieces. The music is contrapuntal, classical and structurally satisfying. The Tempo di minuetto is clearly inspired by the Gavotte from Bach's Partita No. 3 and shamelessly uses a direct quote from that masterpiece to great effect. Lovers of Bach will really enjoy this work enormously.
La Chasse takes us back into the world of Paganini. Trills, double stopping, octaves, harmonics and leaps all over the strings abound. Vieuxtemps even throws in a theme from the third movement of the Beethoven Violin Concerto for good measure. There’s not much by the way of musical substance, but the level of virtuosity is incredible.
The Six Etudes de Concert are the earliest works featured in this recital and have more to offer than the exuberant, hollow histrionics of La Chasse. The music demands virtuosity from the soloist, but it isn’t virtuosity just for the sake of it. The opening Allegro moderato is a free-flowing attractive movement, and this is followed by a delightful salon piece marked Grazioso. The final Adagio-Allegretto is the most substantial piece in the set and Vieuxtemps utilises the full range that the instrument has to offer, with scampering passage work from the bottom of the G string right up to the stratosphere at the top of the E string. There are some awesome technical challenges for the soloist to overcome and a high level of agility is required to get around the instrument.
This CD can be warmly recommended to those who love to hear virtuoso violin playing of the highest order. The music may be patchy, but the technical demands are mindboggling.
The Six Morceaux are well worth the price of the disc alone. Reto Kuppel is a magnificent player with a fearless approach and fine tone. I can’t imagine hearing finer performances than this.