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Rodolphe KREUTZER (1766-1831)
Violin Concerto No. 6 in E minor (KWV 28) [29:17]
Violin Concerto No. 7 in A major (KWV 34) [19:08]
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G major (KWV 13) [23:42]
Laurent Albrecht Breuninger (violin)
Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim/Timo Handschuh
rec. 2014, Ev. Matthäuskirche Pforzheim, Germany
CPO 555 206-2 [72:23]

Rodolphe Kreutzer is probably best known as the dedicatee of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47 (1803), though he never actually got to play the work. Kreutzer made the acquaintance of Beethoven in 1798, when at Vienna in the service of the French ambassador. Beethoven originally dedicated the sonata to George Bridgetower, the violinist at its first performance, but after a quarrel he revised the dedication in favour of Kreutzer.

Kreutzer was born in Versailles, and was initially taught by his German father, a musician in the royal chapel, before going on to study with composer and violinist Anton Stamitz (1750-1798 or 1809 – exact death date unknown). Kreutzer became one of the foremost violin virtuosos of his day, appearing as a soloist until 1810. He was a violin professor at the Conservatoire de Paris from its foundation in 1795 until 1826, and co-author of the Conservatoire's violin method with Pierre Rode and Pierre Baillot. In fact the three are considered the founding trinity of the French school of violin playing. For a time, Kreutzer was leader of the Paris Opera, and from 1817 he conducted there too. He died in Geneva and is buried in Paris at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. For further biographical details, the CD sleeve notes include a highly-informative article on the composer’s life and music.

As a composer, his works include 19 violin concertos, and 40 operas, while he is best-known for his 42 Études ou caprices for solo violin (1796). As a violinist, he was praised for his use of the bow, his superb tone, and the clearness of his articulation and execution. CPO have been especially fortunate here in having the opportunity to engage German-born violin-virtuoso, Laurent Albrecht Breuninger, as soloist in what are three especially challenging works, which demand the same technical expertise and expressive qualities that their composer had in overflowing abundance.

Seen chronologically, Kreutzer’s 19 concertos span the years from 1783 to 1809, which in terms of Mozart, predate his concertos (1773-75) by some ten years – whereas Beethoven’s solitary example appeared in 1806. On the face of it, then, we need to look elsewhere for the source of Kreutzer’s musical style, and writing for his instrument. Not surprisingly, it’s the French violin tradition itself, then the playing and compositional style of the Mannheim musicians, especially Stamitz, whom Kreutzer had studied with, and lastly the pioneering techniques that Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) introduced. In one respect, Kreutzer’s three relatively early concertos on this new CD largely confirm to contemporary models. They are cast in three movements, an opening sonata-form with a double exposition, firstly orchestral, and then with the soloist. Then comes a slow movement with something of an intermezzo character, in ternary (A-B-A) form, and a final Rondo – three appearances of the main theme, separated by two episodes. But even for all that, Kreutzer does have a few surprises up his sleeve along the way.

Here again, the CD notes provide a fascinating, in-depth and comprehensive analysis of each movement from each of the three respective concertos Given that the analyses even refer to specific time-spots on the CD, and might seem overly technical for those who just want to enjoy the music and playing, others will find them a fascinating vademecum, while they’re listening. The first work recorded is the Concerto No. 6 in E minor (1790), which begins with a robust Allegro maestoso, featuring its fair share of taut dotted rhythms, which contrast nicely with the lyrical qualities of the embryonic second subject. Up to this point, we might be listening to any orchestral work from the post Sturm und Drang era, but once the soloist makes his impressively-commanding and assertive entry, quickly taking the instrument up into the oxygen zone, it becomes immediately apparent that this is a virtuoso display concerto par excellence, with all the expected fireworks and acrobatics from the violin, but, in Kreutzer’s case, always a piece of serious musical merit, too. This is, in fact, one of the CDs great selling points – pure virtuosity and appropriate support from the excellent Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim when asked for, but equally delicate and expressive playing when the occasion demands, all under the assured and totally idiomatic direction of Timo Handschuh. One of the highlights of the movement has to be the highly-impressive pyrotechnic display from the soloist – namely the unaccompanied cadenza of over five minutes, which just leaves a few more orchestral bars to round off the single longest movement on the CD, at 20’22, itself longer than the whole of the Seventh Concerto which comes next.

The slow movement is entitled Sicilienne – a charming, and delicate piece of writing in the key of C major, which then leads into a catchy little Rondeau, which makes a fair use of a tonic pedal in the rondo-theme itself. It might have ended quietly, possible even in the tonic major key, but Kreutzer keeps resolutely to the plan, allowing the orchestra the final word with a few decisive E-minor chords.

The Concerto No. 7 in A major (1791) is of altogether slighter proportions compared with its predecessor. The opening movement again includes the instruction Maestoso (majestically), but largely follows the floor-plan of the earlier concerto. There is a cadenza of proportionately the same length, which again is all but the end of the movement. The slow movement is simply an Adagio (slowly) in the tonic minor (A), and again speaks with heartfelt emotion, a kind of Arioso, that does seem to be looking back to Baroque times. However, an Imperfect Cadence is arrived (Half-Close) is reached, which is the moment for the soloist to launch us directly into the Rondo (Allegretto) finale, with a theme that does bear a passing resemblance to that of the previous finale. Incorporating slight tempo variations between sections adds to the overall effect, and again there is certainly no shortage of thrills and acrobatics from Breuninger, who soars so effortlessly to some of the highest notes on the instrument, landing on them with pinpoint accuracy.

The CD closes with the earliest work, the Concerto No. 1 in G major (1783/84). Once again it’s a business-like opening from the orchestra, and where the spirit of Mozart seems a little more evident. On this occasion, Kreutzer has replaced maestoso with moderato (Allegro moderato, to be precise), but the opening movement still follows the pattern of presenting with a fairly brisk tempo, though with just a little moderation. The second subject, on this occasion, exhibits that little extra sense of affection, which is so very sympathetically handled by soloist and orchestra. The cadenza is shorter, at just over two minutes, but still packed with enough technical goodies. The slow movement is now a peaceful Pastorale in the subdominant key of C. Again it provides the soloist with a perfect opportunity to sing out Kreutzer’s simple, yet so appealing cantilena. Then, with the emotional part of the concerto done-and-dusted, it only leaves another Kreutzer Rondeau to round everything off on a high. Yet again, the composers conjures up another of those catchy little earworms that has distinguished each of works recorded so far, and one which soloist and orchestra appear to relish with great gusto. In this Haydnesque finale, there’s even a nice little rustic touch in the second episode. Also, just before the theme’s penultimate reprise, the composer teases his listeners with a slower mini-cadenza, before the tempo quickly resumes, but only to slow down again a couple of minutes later. However, Kreutzer can’t hold back any longer, and everyone accelerates off to a joyous close.

This is a truly enjoyably CD of the highest playing quality, both from Breuninger and the orchestra. It is exceptionally well recorded, with everyone placed to optimum effect on the sound-stage, and the sleeve-notes are among the most comprehensive and informative I’ve seen for quite a while.

Rodolphe Kreutzer may be better-known because of his connexion with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, ‘Kreutzer’, or his mention in Leo Tolstoy’s 1889 novella, which takes its title from Beethoven’s sonata – or it even might be the 1923 String Quartet No. 1 by Leoš Janáček, subtitled Kreutzer Sonata, and inspired by Tolstoy’s novel.

But this eminently captivating CD of three of Kreutzer’s Violin Concertos really makes an excellent case for affording him the real credit he deserves in his own right as a composer and performer, rather than by a couple of tenuous links to a pre-eminent German musician, or a highly-revered Russian writer.

Philip R Buttall

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