Chamber music is very much the metier of German violinist Rainer Kussmaul, who received his first lessons from his father and then went to Ricardo Odnoposoff, a former student of the great pedagogue Carl Flesch. Continuing the work of his forebears, he is director of the violin class at the Baden-Baden Carl Flesch Academy, professor at the Freiburg Conservatory and chairman of the Spohr Violin Competition, as well as giving masterclasses around the world.
Kussmaul’s playing on record reveals a stylistically-conventional, disciplined and sensitive interpreter in a variety of repertoire. The Britten Phantasy (1997) is authoritative and resonant, whilst the ‘Archduke’ Trio (c. 1992) is given a particularly well-balanced and moderate reading, all details being elucidated with admirable clarity and precision of ensemble—Kussmaul’s colleagues in the Stuttgart Piano Trio (Claus Kanngiesser, cello and Monika Leonhard, piano) are similarly strong players of pedagogic pedigree.
The 1998 Vivaldi ‘Four Seasons’ recording is intelligently shaped with a good understanding of Baroque musical rhetoric and, although Kussmaul makes few concessions to period style in his own unmodified mainstream sound, there is an apt transparency to his approach which is enjoyable. In both the Chausson and Beethoven works, however, Kussmaul often has to contend with heavy-handed pianism on big-toned modern instruments. Consequently, the Chausson (1994)—although played with great technical command and with a full and rich sound in the outer movements—is not the most poetic of readings overall and lacks the kind of French poignancy one might desire. Kussmaul’s relatively small discography includes, interestingly, the Violin Concerto by Harald Genzmer who, although a hugely important figure in rebuilding the post-war German music scene, is little known outside his native country. This work, which weaves together recognisable threads of Hindemith (Genzmer’s teacher), Bartók and Stravinsky, is presented compellingly by Kussmaul in his 2006 recording. Overall, Kussmaul comes across as a strong and intelligent interpreter and a worthy inheritor of the Flesch tradition.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)