Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Julian Haylock
BBC Music Magazine, February 2012

Philippe Quint possesses the ideal combination of tonal allure, technical finesse and expressive intensity to bring these Paganini adaptations pulsatingly to life. The lifted and thrown bow strokes that litter La campanella are handled with a gently cushioned cantabile which allows the music to sing even when Paganini starts applying his infamous technical thumb-screws.

Quint’s flying spiccato, left-hand agility and forced/natural harmonics throughout the finger-breaking Tancredi Variations are truly phenomenal. Warmly recommended. © 2012 BBC Music Magazine Read complete review

Joseph Magil
American Record Guide, January 2011

Dmitry Cogan is an excellent partner and not merely an accompanist, and the sound recorded at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studios is very good. This would be a worthwhile acquisition for anyone interested in looking at the work of one master from the point of view of another from a later time.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, January 2011

Fritz Kreisler made a rather large number of arrangements of Paganini’s music, and a great deal of them appear in Philippe Quint’s collection. In addition to these, Kreisler arranged the First Concerto’s first movement in a version that he himself recorded (though not until 1936, when he had entered his 60s—it’s the only Paganini he recorded), as, later, would Alfredo Campoli and Guila Bustabo. August Wilhelmj also arranged the first movement of that concerto, snipping here and there, reorchestrating, and adding romantic transitions—but Kreisler’s version bears the imprint of both Vienna and his own personality. While Heifetz, early on, reportedly played Wilhelmj’s arrangement with piano (Váša Příhoda recorded it that way), I’m not aware of a tradition of performing Kreisler’s version. So this roster of works arranged for violin and piano seems pretty much complete.

Quint begins with the finale of the Second Concerto, often played as an encore. He possesses not only the agility to make the harmonics tinkle (the movement’s subtitle, “La campanella,” suggests the ringing of bells) but the stylistic sensitivity and adaptability to play the occasional passage as though it had been written by Kreisler rather than Paganini (and the accompaniments—Kreisler, like Heifetz, played the piano almost as well as he did the violin—indulge Kreisler’s tendency to gemütlich chromaticism). Occasionally here, as in other pieces, Kreisler simplifies or omits, but the excisions and emendations hardly ever disfigure the torso he’s left. And Quint plays with such authority that it’s hard to hear these arrangements as anything but definitive, though inspection reveals otherwise.

Paganini’s variations showcase many of his most difficult technical innovations (there’s nothing in the caprices, for example, to equal the accompanied pizzicatos or double harmonics of the variations on God Save the King). They’re difficult enough to make a dazzling impression even when some of the terrors have been shorn, as in Kreisler’s arrangements. He certainly didn’t blanch at the double harmonics that figure so prominently in the Variations on Non più mesta, and neither does Quint, though they’re not 99 and 99/100 percent pure in his reading.

The young Jascha Heifetz and the young Michael Rabin made electrifying impressions, each, in the Moto perpetuo. If Quint doesn’t bite as deeply into the string as they did even at their lickety-split tempos, he still manages to make a lively impression; his reading takes 4:11, with Heifetz’s (1918) and Rabin’s (1960) and Ricci’s, 3:59, 3: 13, and 4:00, respectively, but Rabin didn’t repeat the first section. It’s impossible to distinguish the difficult passages from the easy ones. Next in Quint’s program come the three caprices Kreisler arranged for violin and piano (Heifetz used to play the 13th and 20th in Kreisler’s way). Quint plays the 13th at a tempo so deliberate that it’s hard to maintain focus, even though the piano part’s interesting enough in itself, but there’s nothing soggy about his approach to the staccatos in the middle section; in his rendition, what had become known as the “Devil’s Laugh” comes closer to a devil’s sigh. In No. 20, he realizes much of the lyricism suggested by the rich piano accompaniment (compare it at this tempo with the even richer one by Karol Szymanowski and see how adept it seems). And he brings a strikingly playful sense, reminiscent of Kreisler’s own, to the middle section (he doesn’t return to the opening after it—Kreisler reworked the middle section’s ending).

Le streghe—at least its theme—has become familiar to most violin students working their way through the Suzuki literature, but the piece from which it has been drawn has been recorded with an infrequency that may be due to its difficulty. Quint makes a crisp impression in the double- and triple-stopped passages, reminiscent of Ricci’s performances of the composer’s works, and more advanced recording techniques provide a truer tonal portrait. Quint is as ardently insinuating on the G string as he is commanding in those multiple-stops. And he’s as Kreislerian in the seemingly obvious interpolations as he is Paganinian in the original material.

Paganini’s 24th Caprice has perhaps been played and recorded in the original version more often than in arrangement, but Heifetz used to play Leopold Auer’s reworking. Kreisler’s represents, in a way, a different kind of work, with flintier sparks but some of the original variations replaced (think of what he did with Tartini’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli—there’s a variation here that sounds very much like the multiple-stopped one he created for that Tartini piece). The variation in descending thirds sounds languid in this version (and in Quint’s performance).

Once again in the introduction to Paganini’s variations on Di tanti palpiti, the music suddenly sounds like Kreisler. That happens so often in Kreisler’s arrangements that it would attract little notice. But Quint plays with a special Kreislerian sensibility that renders the effect a magical one.

The engineers have captured Quint and the capable Dmitriy Cogan up close, and in this case cozying up like this doesn’t yield an HD image that reveals warts and skin blemishes; Quint is nearly flawless. Kreisler obviously had a good working technique, even if he might never have rivaled Heifetz or Ricci or Kogan or Milstein—and the list might go on longer. Perhaps, however, he had other fish to fry. Or perhaps he didn’t and he might have been, as his wife embarrassingly insisted in public, a fine violinist if he’d only have practiced. Be that as it may, Quint gives these pieces idiomatic performances that Kreisler himself might have envied. That’s a mouthful. Strongly recommended.

Duncan Druce
Gramophone, November 2010

Paganini got it right the first time—Kreisler’s arrangements miss the mark

Like most people interested in string playing, I’m a keen admirer of Fritz Kreisler: of the communicative power of his violin playing, preserved through his many recordings, and of his own short pieces, treasured by violinists ever since his day. I’m less sure about Kreisler the arranger, and I certainly don’t think any of these Paganini rewrites improves on the original. In La campanella, Paganini’s rondo form is unbalanced by being shorn of its second episode, and Kreisler’s enriched harmonisation of the theme, while undoubtedly ingenious, adds a touch of queasy sentimentality to Paganini’s bright, direct setting. Similarly, the piano parts for the Caprices have the effect of making the music softer and prettier—not to its advantage. In No 20, Paganini’s folk-style drone is overlaid with an elaborate, chromatic accompaniment that takes the music into a different era. Kreisler’s version of No 24 is a strange hybrid, retaining only a few of Paganini’s variations on the famous theme, but adding several of his own. The other variation pieces fare better in that there are fewer harmonic changes, but in each case Kreisler tinkers with the form—omitting variations, adding cadenzas. The effect for me is to strengthen my admiration for Paganini the composer—he gets it right, and doesn’t need anyone to make “improvements”.

This is all the more sad because Philippe Quint is an excellent Paganini player—his technique is up to the mark, with alluring tone quality and expressive, stylish playing of the quasi-operatic cantabile music. I look forward to some genuine Paganini from him.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, November 2010

Here is a meeting of two unlikely minds: Niccolò Paganini, the ultimate showman, the first rock star, the man who brought virtuoso solo playing to new, undreamed-of heights, and Fritz Kreisler, the suave gentleman with a genius for salon music and miniatures. And yet Kreisler arranged a series of Paganini’s works for violin and piano, both works which were originally for orchestra (like ‘La Campanella’ or ‘Le streghe’) and works which were originally for violin alone (like the selected caprices). This is a recital consisting entirely of such arrangements, and Paganini fans will want to have it, but its appeal will also extend to violin aficionados generally.

Alongside Hyperion’s “Romantic Concerto” series, the less evocatively named Naxos series “Nineteenth Century Violin Music” is one of the greatest gifts to violin enthusiasts in many a year. Announced in 2007, the series aims to include major (and, frankly, minor) works by the likes of Charles-August de Bériot, Pierre Baillot, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Jenő Hubay, Antonio Bazzini, Jan Kalliwoda, and Ferdinand David, as well as the complete works of Henri Vieuxtemps and Pablo de Sarasate. Grammy-nominated violinist Philippe Quint has been an enthusiastic member of the project, having previously recorded a slate of Beriot concertos. Now, with the Paganini/Kreisler transcriptions, he reaches an intriguing medium between the famous and the obscure. This is familiar music in an unfamiliar frame.

Some works are more popular than others: ‘La Campanella’ and the twenty-fourth caprice are justly legendary, while the somewhat long-winded variations on Rossini tunes have been consigned to the footnotes of music history. Philippe Quint tackles them all with freshness, dazzling technique, and a tone which is a little brighter and thinner than I like. He cannot make satisfying the structures of the variations (which were, frankly, built to show off Paganini’s skills to best advantage), but he can dispatch their double stops, multiple extended harmonic passages, and occasional expressive demands seemingly without any difficulty. As I write this, I am listening to the Moto perpetuo and wondering not just how anyone can play this music, but how anyone can make it sound so easy.

The twenty-fourth caprice is one of the most interesting tracks: Kreisler could not help but write some variations of his own! The booklet helpfully explains which of Paganini’s variations have been replaced by Kreisler’s new inventions, which are all worthy of joining the originals—and some of them are tougher to play: try 0:53!. Pianist Dmitry Cogan even gets his own mini-variation (2:18), a welcome moment at the surface after spending most of the disc submerged beneath a sea of virtuosic violin writing. Is it just me, or do the capacious chords of that little piano solo invoke another composer associated with this tune: Rachmaninoff?

The Caprice No 20 in D begins as a surprisingly lyrical, lovely invention thanks to Kreisler’s (and Cogan’s) singing piano accompaniment, and Quint squeezes every bit of romance out of the main theme. The central section is still a ferocious technical challenge for the violin. Le Streghe (“Witches”) doesn’t sound very devilish until its conclusion, but it is witty and gives Quint plenty of chances to show off. The ‘I Palpiti’ variations close the recital, beginning with another chance for Cogan to reveal his sensitive playing style, before Quint delivers the gorgeous main tune and shrugs off several minutes of adventures in the violin’s highest register.

The sound is good, but I have heard some of Philippe Quint’s other discs on which his violin playing is presented in a more flattering light. Here the tone is a bit too bright, too thin, although it got better when I cranked up the volume. There is one poorly-done edit, at 7:58 on ‘Le Streghe.’ One more production note: this is one of the first Naxos discs to not have any white space on the cover. The trend began a few months ago, with (I think) the Alfredo Casella series, and seems to be expanding as it goes along. Maybe in a few years’ time the old white covers with little paintings and Times font will be gone. That really would leave me irrationally nostalgic.

But back to the disc at hand: if you are not very passionate about Paganini, or the violin in general, I do have to warn that much of this music originally consisted of brazen showing-off and Kreisler did not get in the way of that goal. For the mere casual fan of virtuosic violin pieces, the recital can be hard to enjoy in one sitting.

On the other hand, if you love the music of Paganini, or if you are collecting the Nineteenth Century Violin series, you will definitely want to hear this recital. The best all-around recital of Paganini music arranged for violin and piano probably remains Pavel šporcl’s on Supraphon with pianist Petr Jirikovsky. It features arrangements by a number of tinkerers and has fuller sound. šporcl has a more genial tone but, especially as šporcl does not play ‘La campanella’ or the twenty-fourth caprice, there is room for the two albums on one shelf. Violin aficionados are strongly advised to follow that course and listen to both.

Edith Eisler
Strings Magazine, October 2010

Only a virtuoso would dare take on these pieces, composed by Nicolò Paganini and arranged by Fritz Kreisler—violinist Philippe Quint is fully equal to their challenges. Trained in his native Russia and in New York, where he now lives, he has performed worldwide on stage, radio, and television.

Two of his recordings, which include concertos by Ned Rorem and Miklós Rózsa, have received Grammy Award nominations.

This record concentrates on bravura display that leaves no violinistic resource unexplored: harmonics; left-hand pizzicato; double-, triple- and quadruple-stops; staccato; ricochet; and, of course, running passages at hair-raising speeds, especially in the Moto perpetuo.

His pure tone can be both sonorous and radiant—its only flaw is a fast, never-changing vibrato.

The program features “La campanella,” the finale of Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto; variations on themes from two Rossini operas and from a ballet by Mozart’s pupil Süssmayr, where Quint spins long singing lines in true bel canto style; and three caprices, including the famous No. 24, a set of variations whose theme inspired many later composers.

Kreisler “arranged” these pieces mainly by substituting his own music for sections he had altered or cut. His real contribution was providing sometimes overly elaborate piano parts for the unaccompanied caprices, and replacing Paganini’s rather naïve accompaniments for the rest with more sophisticated ones.

A disc for aficionados of fine fiddling.

Jane Jones
Classic FM, October 2010

This collection produces guaranteed crowd-pleasers performed with tremendous pace and style by Quint.

WQXR (New York), September 2010

Philippe Quint’s approach favors a bit more romantic expressivity as he glides through Kreisler’s violin and piano arrangements. Included here are two-large scale sets of variations based on themes of Rossini operas, La campanella and several Caprices. There’s more sonic variety in Kreisler arrangements but also a schmaltzier quality that might seem dated to some listeners. Still, the real point of comparison comes in No. 24. Quint’s version has a certain period charm but also power: the control of the bow in staccato runs is breathtaking., September 2010

The effectiveness of Philippe Quint and Dmitriy Cogan should not be doubted for a moment...Fritz Kreisler’s revisions of Paganini’s works were designed to highlight Kreisler’s own distinctive style of violin virtuosity at the expense of many of Paganini’s innovations. Kreisler, for example, was fond of artificial harmonics, which he introduced into several of the pieces heard here. He was not fond of scordatura, which was a primary Paganini technique (most famously in his Violin Concerto No. 1), so Kreisler simply took it out when making these arrangements. There is plenty of virtuosity here—Moto perpetuo, in particular, is astonishingly well played, with Quint continuing at a breakneck pace no matter how often it seems that he cannot possibly keep it up. And there is some interesting treatment of the three more-extended works on the CD: Introduction and Variations on “Non più mesta” from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” Introduction and Variations on “Di tanti palpiti” from Rossini’s “Tancredi,” and—most of all—the simply titled but notoriously difficult Le streghe (“The Witches”). Still, most of the interest lies in what Paganini created, not in what Kreisler did to modify the earlier master’s work. This is even truer in the shorter pieces, which include three of the 24 Caprices, Op. 1 (Nos. 13, 20 and 24) and the “La Campanella” finale from Violin Concerto No. 2. Quint plays everything extremely well—he must be quite something to watch when doing works like these in concert—and Cogan backs him up admirably even though, in truth, he does not have much to do (Kreisler gave the piano accompanist only minimal chances to shine). It is certainly understandable that Kreisler, who performed mainly in the 20th century, would want to put his personal stamp on music created by one of the greatest violinists of the 19th.

C. Michael Bailey
All About Jazz, September 2010

A modern parallel to the Romantic period relationship of Nicolo Paganini and Fritz Kreisler might be guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The younger men of the pairs arranged and played the music of the older musicians, adding their own shine to the compositions. Everyone in the quartet was a showman in the extreme. But the genesis of such behavior in performers began with Paganini and his buddy Franz Liszt. Paganini was a mercurial enigma, whose violin talent continues to look for a peer 170 years after his death. During his lifetime, Paganini knew his talent and composed toward it, his Opus 1 Caprices being the ultimate solo showpieces that he played with demonic relish in concert.

A century later, a violinist with none too shabby a reputation arrived in Fritz Kreisler, whose incandescent playing is perhaps the best, if not simply the most extroverted, of the modern era. Kreisler was impressed with his talent also, so much so, he arranged several Paganini warhorses for his own performance. Highlighted here is his arrangement of the most famous Caprice of all, “The Number 24 in A minor.” Russian Philippe Quint’s performance is like that of a Steve Vai or Zack Wylde, so rife with technique that the violinist threatens to overpower the piece with his fireworks. Where he is successful is in not doing so, producing a performance that is a high-wire act without a net. The danger and threat are palpable, while Paganini smiles—pinned to some crag in Hell.

James Manheim, September 2010

Fritz Kreisler’s arrangements of music by Niccolò Paganini do not have the consistent conceptual basis of some of his other music. Instead, they replace Paganini’s virtuoso effects with others that, one assumes, played to Kreisler’s strengths. Generally speaking, they rely less on pure fire and more on exotic effects. There are three large variation sets included, and all three include remarkable passages in harmonics that replace parallel sections in the originals. Kreisler seems less fond of octaves than Paganini, and more fond of lengthy triple-stopped (and even quadruple-stopped—hear the conclusion of Le streghe, Op. 8, [track 6]) passages. Most of the available Kreisler recordings seem to focus on the same set of sentimental favorites, and this disc helps flesh out the legacy of this fascinating figure. It might be objected that Russian-American violinist Philippe Quint doesn’t sound much like Kreisler; he tones down Kreisler’s characteristic mid-tone warble. But these are lively performances in which Quint does well to sacrifice perfect tonal precision for expressivity, and he is supported by expressive playing from accompanist Dmitri Cogan. Fine acoustics from the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto are a plus. Recommended for Kreisler fans.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2010

A disc that will make you shake your head in disbelief, and I guess that Paganini and Kreisler would have been mightily impressed by the virtuosity of the Russian-born Philippe Quint. Kreisler fancied himself as a composer and his salon pieces live on, but his many transcriptions that replaced the orchestra with a piano accompaniment have died a death with audience demanding the big red-blooded sounds that orchestras bring. But in yesteryear, before jet travel could convey soloists from one major venue to the next, top named soloists had to appear in small town venues to fill out a tour. To show their prowess they would play famous music with a piano backing, making transcriptions much in demand. Certainly these Kreisler transcriptions were not aimed at the sheet music market for the gifted amateur for they are often fiendishly difficult. Opening with an adaptation of the Rondo from Paganini’s Second Violin Concerto, known as La campanella, Quint makes it sparkle yet resists the usual dash through the piece. The disc also contains two of Paganini’s showpiece Introduction and Variations, both on popular Rossini opera arias, one each coming from La Cenerentola and Tancredi, Kreisler feeling free to make whatever changes pleased him. Long passages are in harmonics, often difficult to pitch, while the cadenza Kreisler added is ridiculous difficulty. Another work in the same guise, but given the name, Le streghe, is an equally sensational introduction and variation on a theme from Sussmayr’s ballet Il noce di Benvenuto. The well-known Moto perpetuo, in a whirlwind account that never sounds rushed, makes mere mortals wonder why we try to play the instrument. The thirteenth, twentieth and twenty-fourth Caprice complete the disc. Dmitriy Cogan ideally fulfills the piano part, moving so perfectly in accord with the amazing Quint.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group