About this Recording
8.110909 - BEETHOVEN / MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concertos, Vol. 1 (Kreisler) (1926)

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)

The Complete Concerto Recordings Vol. 1

Fritz Kreisler was born in Vienna in 1875, the son of a doctor and keen amateur violinist, who first taught his son the instrument from the age of four. Lessons followed with Jacques Auber and at the age of seven he was able to enter the Vienna Conservatory. There he studied the violin with the younger Joseph Hellmesberger and was instructed in musical theory by Anton Bruckner. At the age of ten he won the Conservatory Gold Medal. Thereafter he entered the Paris Conservatoire as a pupil of Massart, taking theory lessons from Delibes. Two years later he won the Premier Grand Prix, an honour he shared with four other players, all of them a good ten years older. This success marked the end of his professional training as a violinist.

By the age of fourteen Kreisler had embarked on an international career as a virtuoso, but in the 1890s he returned to Vienna for further schooling and for initial medical training, before his military service. By 1896, however, he had resolved to return to a musical career and although he failed to pass the audition to join the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra, in 1898 he was able to appear with the same players as a soloist and to resume with greater success his international career, with concerts in Berlin, the United States, London and elsewhere. In 1910 in London, indeed, he was able to give the first performance of Elgar’s Violin Concerto, which was dedicated to him.

Wounded during war service in the Austrian army during the early months of the Great War, Kreisler moved later in 1914 to the United States, but only returned to the concert platform there in 1919. For ten years from 1924 he lived in Berlin, but after the Anschluss, in spite of the offer of French citizenship, he returned to the United States, where he continued his career, giving his final public concert in 1947. He died in New York in 1962.

Kreisler’s style of playing included an extended use of vibrato, applied to shorter as well as longer notes. His very personal methods of fingering are preserved in the many editions he made of major works in the violin repertoire, while his use of the bow ensured a sweetness of tone that avoided excessive pressure or forced volume. As a composer he provided a number of transcriptions, as well as a series of short compositions attributed by him to lesser known composers of the past. These have all continued in standard repertoire, although the validity of the attributions would hardly convince a modern audience.

The present recordings were made in Berlin in 1926, either at the Singakademie or at the Electrola Studios, with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Leo Blech, who had returned to the State Opera in the same year, continuing his duties until 1937, when he was forced into exile. He returned to work in Berlin in 1949, dying there in 1958.

Beethoven seems to have continued his own study of the violin after 1792, when he settled in Vienna, sent there by his and his family’s patron, the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne. In his native Bonn he had attempted to write a concerto for the instrument, but it was only in 1806 that he completed his Violin Concerto in D major, a work that he initially dedicated to the young violinist Franz Clement, the principal violinist and conductor at the Theater an der Wien. It seems that Clement, on the occasion of the first performance of the concerto, was able to entertain his audience with a series of variations played with the violin upside-down, a testimony to his technical proficiency, if not to his taste. The concerto, dedicated on its publication to Stephan von Breuning, was well enough received, although there were some who complained about the length of the first movement. It was not until 1844 that the concerto became part of standard repertoire, when it was performed by the young Joachim, with the orchestra conducted by Mendelssohn. It was the advocacy of Joachim in the following years that ensured the concerto its position. The first movement opens with five ominous drum-beats, a recurrent rhythmic figure that is prelude to a long exposition. The principal thematic material of the movement is followed by the entry of the soloist with perilously exposed ascending octaves, followed by the principal theme, now in a higher register, and a transition to the secondary theme. Kreisler’s cadenza to this formally classical movement opens with ascending octaves, recalling the first solo entry, going on to a brilliant combination of earlier thematic material and virtuoso violin-writing. The slow movement is introduced by muted strings, embellished by the comments of the solo violin, which finally is entrusted with its own theme. The cadenza links this movement to the final rondo, its theme entrusted to the soloist, playing on the lowest string of the instrument. The principal theme returns to frame contrasting episodes and forms the basis of Kreisler’s cadenza for the movement.

An example of Kreisler’s style of performance is heard in his 1926 recording of the Adagio from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata No.1 in G minor for Unaccompanied Violin. The three Sonatas and three Partitas for solo violin were written in 1720 at Cöthen, during the period Bach spent there as Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen.

The arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words, Opus 62, No.1, to which the title May Breezes was given by an imaginative publisher, is one of Kreisler’s transcriptions issued in his Master Works series. The pianist in the present recording is the Hungarian Arpad Sándor.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote his Violin Concerto in E minor, the only such work of his maturity, in 1844 for the violinist Ferdinand David. Its composition marked not only his gratitude to David for his support in Leipzig but also some of the relief he now felt at the end of a period that had involved him in troublesome musical politics in Berlin, where his family had made their home during his early childhood. His own career had taken him to Düsseldorf and on frequent occasions to England, where he was always welcome. In Leipzig, however, he had been able to establish a conservatory and find fulfillment in his direction of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. The concerto, described by Mendelssohn’s early protégé Joachim as the dearest of all German violin concertos, the heart’s jewel, has a number of unusual features. The soloist enters after the briefest of orchestral introductions, announcing the principal theme, then taken up by the orchestra. The cadenza by Mendelssohn is placed after the central development instead of at the end of the movement and a sustained bassoon note links the first and second movements. The composer’s masterly economy of means is shown still further in the slow movement, followed by a brief transitional section that leads to a final movement characterized by the lightness of touch for which Mendelssohn was well known.

Keith Anderson

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