FANFARE: Robert Maxham
, December 2010
The booklet accompanying Encores and More explains that the two discs constitute two programs from a 12-part concert series, with each introducing a musical region, given in Mannheim’s Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums during 1997 (the first CD’s Hungarian program) and 1998 (the second CD’s compilation of numbers from the rest of the programs). All these works have become violinistic chestnuts of a sort, and their appearance in one release provides a treasure-trove of the familiar and the unfamiliar for violin aficionados.
The first program opens with Myron Poliakin’s Canary Polka, a work that may be better known to American listeners as The Hot Canary, which Florian ZaBach popularized, in Peter Nero’s arrangement, with his zesty performances and on a Decca gold record (paired with Jalousie) in the 1950s. Those who remember, or still listen to, ZaBach’s reading will hardly be tempted to replace it with the original, even though Friedemann Eichhorn’s avian imitations and general virtuosity obviously charmed his live audience. Liszt’s Grand Duo Concertant on the romance “Le Marin” by Lafont consists, after an introduction, of a set of four variations on Lafont’s melody, concluding with a martial finale. Eichhorn’s tone may occasionally sound brittle, but he plays the work with a zest and enthusiasm (both matched by Peer Findeisen, whose part, as in the running second variation, equals, as might be expected, that of the violin in both difficulty and brilliance). Violinist Chris Nichols and pianist Jonathan Ayerst played the work on Hyperion CDA66743, Fanfare 18:6, and it’s the only one from that program of Liszt’s music for violin and piano that the composer published during his lifetime; though Ayerst played with great beauty of tone, his reading seems pallid, at least in the matter of insinuating enthnicity, and technically less confident than Eichhorn’s. Franz von Vecsey’s Valse triste may not be his most popular short piece (listeners may be more familiar with Le Vent), but it provides contrast (and perhaps a rest for both listeners and performers after Liszt’s technical blockbuster) in Eichhorn’s program. Eichhorn plays it warmly, exposing its especially rich expressive lode. Bartók’s Rumanian Folk Dances, in Zoltán Székely’s arrangement of the composer’s piano solo, has become a staple in violinists’ repertoire. Eichhorn and Findeisen’s lyricism, subtle and passionate, respectively, in the two slow dances, contrasts with their élan in the last two fast ones; Eichhorn sounds particularly commanding on the G string in the next-to-last dance.
If violinists who focus exclusively on the sonata repertoire feel tempted to scoff at Hubay’s Hejre Kati, it’s still an effective encore when served up with exotic campfire gusto, and that’s the way Eichhorn plays it—with obvious relish and dashing stylistic authenticity. Perhaps the most introspective piece on the program, Kodály’s Adagio, offers a moment of serious reflection, especially in Eichhorn’s heartfelt reading. Georges Boulanger wrote many salon favorites, among them Avant de mourir, popularized in the 1950s by the Platters as My Prayer. Boulanger himself recorded the Pizzicato Waltz; in Eichhorn and Findeisen’s performance, it effervesces with high spirits. Monti’s Czárdás, another violinist’s warhorse, can sound pretty deadly when played straight, but both Eichhorn and Findeisen, seemingly improvising as they go, make it sob in the slow section and season it with a dash of irresistible paprika-like bravado in the finale.
The selections on the second CD include only five original works, but such transcriptions once served as the building blocks for violin recitals. Nathan Milstein and Aaron Rosand played Mussorgsky’s Hopak (in Rachmaninoff’s arrangement), but neither violinist endowed it with more thumping rhythmic appeal or more electric energy than does Eichhorn. Eichhorn and Findeisen work a similar magic in Kreisler’s arrangement of Falla’s Spanish Dance. Heifetz chose his arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Daisies for his television appearance in 1971 (as well as his slinky one of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So), and it’s tempting to suggest that he brought them an inimitable panache, but the duo once again make these pieces their own. Eichhorn doesn’t sound anything like Heifetz, but he states a very strong case for both pieces, and his individuality could overpower, at least temporarily, a listener’s reminiscence of the Master. Heifetz also played La Capricieuse (and so, in one of his few recordings, did the prodigiously talented Josif Hassid). It’s a showcase for crisp staccato, and Eichhorn possesses a triphammer one. But he also makes brief pauses that imprint his signature on the reading. Paul Kochánski arranged Falla’s Suite populaire, and, like Bartók’s Rumanian Folk Dances from the first CD, it’s become a repertoire staple. Findeisen brings buoyant ethnic rhythmic piquancy to “El paño moruno,” and Eichhorn a similarly ethnic smoldering intensity to “Nana.” Milstein played “Asturiana” and “Jota” as a set of two, but he didn’t find more haunting suggestiveness in the first nor more exuberant gaiety in the second than do the duo. They’ve included two of Fritz Kreisler’s original pieces—not the most popular two, but characteristic ones nonetheless—and they play them with a charm that made me want to go immediately to my collection of Kreisler’s own recordings of them. Eichhorn adds finger slides to his jaunty reading of Syncopation that enhance its effect and suffuse it with an authentic sepia tint.
I’ve heard Sarasate’s Spanish Dances taken at a tempo so slow as to hobble their forward motion; Campoli did that in some of the dances, but not in the Playera (London 433 938); in any case, forward motion in the duo’s performance imparts to it a touch of grandeur; and they give Wieniawski’s Kujawiak, a piece anthologized in many collections of sheet music for the violin, a similarly dashingly recreative twist. Catherine’s arrangement of Ravel’s Pièce also served as an encore number for many violinists, including Milstein, who hardly played it more evocatively. The less familiar but highly accessible Shchedrin novelty, arranged by Zyganov, also receives a stylish performance, replete with almost over-the-top gestures. Zyganov made arrangements, too, of Shostakovich’s preludes, the 13th and 17th of which sound tangy and relatively elusive, respectively, in the duo’s readings. Bent and O’Neill arranged Fiocco’s sunny Allegro from, I believe, an original for harpsichord; it lives today as a violin piece, not least in Suzuki’s method books and in the occasional bracing performance like this one. Zarzycki may be better known for his Mazurka, one of Oistrakh’s specialties, but the Romanze can effectively showcase a violinist’s tonal warmth and expressive range, as it does here. Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance brings the program to a slashing conclusion.
I couldn’t resist discussing each and every piece in the collection. If the whole series of 12 concerts sounded this good (musically—the recording’s just a bit distant but still revealing), it’s a shame we can’t hear them all—or, perhaps even better, watch a set of DVDs. I’d recommend this set as an absolutely bedrock collection of violin pieces for beginning collectors, for students, and for general listeners just for the repertoire alone. But Eichhorn and Findeisen’s joyously vibrant readings make it much more than a simple anthology; if I had to introduce the violin to anyone not familiar with the instrument or unaware of why I love it as I do, I couldn’t find a better choice with which to make my point, at least initially.