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Robert Maxham
Fanfare, November 2010

Hector Berlioz once remarked that had Henri Vieuxtemps not been such a brilliant violinist, he would have been acclaimed as a composer; he numbered Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Wagner—and, of course, Berlioz—among the admirers of his concertos. And just as Giovanni Battista Viotti generations earlier had taken full advantage of Haydn’s orchestral palette in his concertos, Vieuxtemps developed the full potential of the romantic orchestra in his tuttis. Despite these accomplishments and the tributes earlier generations paid to them, Vieuxtemps’ concertos have, until about a decade ago, languished, disappearing from the concert hall. Misha Keylin has now added to his complete recordings of the seven concertos a disc bringing together his concerto-like Fantasia appassionata; his once popular Ballade et Polonaise; the Fantaisie Caprice from 1840, when Vieuxtemps found himself entering his 20s; and the Greeting to America (Vieuxtemps had earlier composed a set of burlesque variations on Yankee Doodle in 1845 and a Bouquet américain in six pieces, St. Patrick’s Day from which Maud Powell recorded in May 1909); these American pieces (and the Greeting is no exception) have usually been listed among his works for violin and piano. The story goes that the classically oriented Vieuxtemps had to contend in America with the folksier Ole Bull, who delighted audiences in the hinterland with his musical feats while the more refined Vieuxtemps (who had played Beethoven’s concerto at the age of 13, at a time when it wasn’t a hallmark of the artist to do so) appealed more strongly in the urban centers of culture and wrote these barnburners to please—or appease—his more general audiences.

If the Fantasia appassionata, lasting almost a third of an hour, hasn’t achieved the kind of currency once enjoyed by the more popular among Vieuxtemps’s concertos, that’s not due to any lack of musical drama, substance, or style, all three of which characteristics it shares with the Fourth and Fifth concertos, even if it’s not quite so symphonic as the Fourth (which Berlioz described as a symphony with violin obbligato). Misha Keylin has shown that he can endow Vieuxtemps’s music with the technical wizardry and beauty of tone it requires to make a strong effect (his championship of Vieuxtemps recalls that of the young Rabin for Wieniawski’s First Concerto now more than a half-century ago). In his performance of the Fantasia, he invites stylistic and technical comparisons with the Fifth Concerto, also conceived in one movement, and makes its singing passages more deeply affecting than did Gidon Kremer (with Riccardo Chailly and the London Symphony Orchestra, rereleased on Philips 432 513) or Viviane Hagner (Hyperion 67798) and its concluding Saltarella exudes more good-natured joviality than did Hagner’s, holding the listener’s attention to the pyrotechnics by virtue of his crisp articulation and bracing tempo. In the Ballade et Polonaise, itself more than a quarter hour in length, Keylin plays with considerable panache—and, in the few slower passages, with considerable poignancy—against the orchestra’s lush backdrop, making a stunning display with the occasional staccato run or barrage of double-stops, but equally in the soaring cantabile.

The equally long—and even less well known—Fantaisie-Caprice sounds as though it amounts to something more than a simple youthful indiscretion. Its opening tutti, in fact, sounds as majestic in its restrained manner as does the more extended opening tuttis in the First and Fourth concertos. Throughout, the Fantaisie serves up an engaging mixture of the lyrical and high-spirited acrobatics, and neither Keylin nor the orchestra seems to consider this mere theatrical display music, punctuated with moments of affecting pathos, to fall beneath their musical horizon. As did Rabin, Keylin can maintain purity of tone all the way up into the empyrean—an important skill for any violinist who would tackle this challenging composition—and he generates considerable excitement in the final section, with its repeated, accordion-like double-stops.

The Greeting to America combines the Star Spangled Banner with a tune with which the composer had enjoyed success in early visits to the United States: Yankee Doodle, all with a high seriousness that doesn’t sound at all tongue-in-cheek, especially in the midst of the portentous—but never pretentous—and billowing orchestration. When Yankee Doodle appears, it’s backwards, as it had been in his earlier set of variations on the tune, and the variations it undergoes sound very similar to those in the earlier work. Keylin plays these with liquid facility and with a bright sheen in the upper registers, before the final peroration on the National Anthem.

The recorded sound (from 2008 except for the Ballade from 2002) sets the violin in a respectable balance with the orchestra. Keylin generally plays an Antonio Gagliano violin from 1831 but, for the earlier recording of the Ballade, borrowed the 1715 Baron Knoop Stradivari from the Fulton Collection. Aficionados of 19th-century violin music and students of the virtuoso technique upon which it depended should find Keylin’s performances of these works nearly irresistible, though general listeners should be delighted by both Keylin’s plucky advocacy and by the works’ melodic richness and wealth of orchestral detail, which the recorded sound reveals in natural clarity. Recommended, accordingly, to all types of listeners.

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, October 2010

Virtuoso Misha Keylin (b. 1970) has made the music of Henri Vieuxtemps his special project, and these performances of works for violin and orchestra, recorded 2002 and 2008, signify the breadth of his commitment. Of particular note has to be Keylin’s spirited rendition of the Ballade et Polonaise from April 2002, in which he performs upon a 1715 “Baron Knoop” Stradivarius of elegant tone and lustrous resonance. Otherwise, Keylin’s personal instrument is the 1831 Gagliano that he plies with equally fervent bravura.

A spectacular violin virtuoso in his own right, Henri Vieuxtemps (1820–1881) brought the violin repertory up to a standard that Chopin had established for the keyboard. The sheer range of techniques proves a formidable arsenal, including double and triple stopping, off-string bowing, harmonics, and fast passages that refuse to relinquish the demand for an expressive singing line. The 1860 Ballade et Polonaise provides a perfect example of Vieuxtemps’ alternately noble and showy virtuosity, the semplice opening sad and wistful, then the stentorian transition to a dignified, high-minded polonaise whose tender moments maintain a sweep and throbbing pulse of a vast national reserve. The ambitious Fantasie appassionato in G Minor (c. 1850) came as a result of an extended Russian tour, and it exploits chromatic devices in runs and double-stops, a cadenza, and several contrasting sections, dolcissimo andante, moderato (and variations), largo and a wild Allegro vivace Saltarella that closes the piece in frenetic motley.

The 1840 expansive Fantasie-Caprice sounds at first like a folk impression in 6/8 by Bruch, but the succeeding Allegretto possesses a mischievous flavor in small steps and a dolce melodic foil. It could be an interpolation for a ballet sequence. The larger Andante utilizes two lengthy variations. Rocking themes over tremolos seem Vieuxtemps’ calling card, but even if we dismiss his constancy as “formula,” one cannot deny his innate capacity for melodic flair. The Andante has Keylin lisping sweet sentiments in double-stops. The effect reminds one of barber-shop quartet sentimental harmony. The mood shifts once more to a flighty to a perky aria with pizzicato accompaniment, the singing line well obligated to Paganini, then onward to a polonaise of spellbindingly wicked fioritura.

Vieuxtemps composed a series of “homages” to the United States as part of his three tours, his most famous the Op. 17 “Souvenir d’Amerique.” The thirteen-minute Greeting to America (c. 1855) opens martially, the solo entering with a noble pledge that will quite literally break out—via trumpet fanfare and modal chords from the solo—into a kaleidoscopic “The Star-Spangled Banner,” cross-fertilized by “Yankee Doodle”—the same motif and musical ploys that command Op. 17. A bold and beguiling “jingoistic” composition, worthy of note by Charles Ives! The entire album proves a delightful odyssey of large works by a master of the idiom for violin and orchestra.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, September 2010

We praised Misha Keylin’s Naxos CD indeed, every installment in Keylin’s survey of Vieuxtemps is absolutely first-rate...He knows how to milk each passage for drama; his bowing is supple, his vibrato appropriately varied, his intonation pure, his attacks firm and confident.... [In] the Fantasia Appassionata...Keylin is “appassionata”...Where Vieuxtemps calls on the soloist to “rhapsodize ecstatically” in the central Largo...Keylin positively swoons over it; and you have to hear how wonderfully he shapes the Saltarello, an insouciant romp that will have you cheering at the close. In the wonderfully buoyant Ballade Keylin speaks with honeyed tongue, bringing out the clear “Polish” flavor, in turn spurred on by alert brass fanfares in the stately Polonaise that conveys all the brilliance and festive sounds of a vast, well-lit ballroom.

While the Fantaisie-Caprice at nearly 17 minutes does go on, Keylin gives it the full heart-on-sleeve treatment and imparts a delightfully raffish edge to the finale, closing out in a flurry of double stops. But this is worth the asking price many times over for the Greeting to America, an incandescent display that works up ‘Yankee Doodle’ left, right, and sideways before soloist and orchestra stand proud in ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’—unbelievable! There’s no question Keylin is having a ball, and as I jumped to my feet at the close I could only marvel at this superb young violinist who came to this country [the USA] from St Petersburg at the age of 9. This is the kind of rousing musicmaking that quite confounds the critic, who must sit there scribbling on his pad when all he really wants to do is throw it away and groove to the beat.

Edith Eisler
Strings Magazine, September 2010

Henry Vieuxtemps (1820–81), one of the greatest violin virtuosos of all time, started his career as a prodigy, making his Paris debut at age nine. His Vienna performance of Beethoven’s Concerto, at age 14, earned high praise from Robert Schumann. Two years later, Vieuxtemps began to tour Europe, Russia, and America, playing concerts almost daily for four decades. Like many virtuosos, he wrote prolifically for his instrument, producing seven concertos and many shorter pieces, some written specially for America, such as the last one on this record.

In 1873, a stroke robbed him of the use of his right arm, but he continued to teach and compose until his fourth stroke—and perhaps a lifetime of overwork—caused his untimely death.

Vieuxtemps’ compositions, including those featured on this new recording from 40-year-old violinist Misha Keylin, alternate brilliant bravura passages with lyrical melodies, like those of earlier violinist/composers, but their orchestrations are richer and more colorful.

The four dazzling showpieces on this disc exploit every instrumental resource and demand utmost virtuosity, a quality that Keylin has in abundance.

Winner of numerous international competitions, the Russian-born and US-raised violinist is a former student of Juilliard grand dame Dorothy DeLay.

He already has recorded Vieuxtemps’ complete violin concertos (seven in number) on a critically acclaimed and commercially successful 1999 three-CD set for the Naxos label. He surmounts the technical hurdles of the works recorded here with incredible ease—his facility is unlimited, his intonation flawless.

The melodies sing and soar.

Though its intensity never changes, his tone is beautiful, even in the topmost stratosphere.

He plays the second piece on a famous Stradivari, instead of his own 1831 Gagliano violin. The difference is imperceptible, proving that it’s the violinist who makes the sound, not the violin., June 2010

The more-familiar string virtuosity of the violin is front and center in the music of Henry Vieuxtemps, who is best known for his seven concertos but also produced quite a few shorter works. The four played by Misha Keylin are filled with complex bowing techniques, double- and triple-stops, harmonics and speedy passages, but also require a light touch and singing tone—with many of these elements juxtaposed within a short time. Thus, in the Fantasia appassionata, a lovely and initially simple tune becomes more strongly ornamented and complex until it eventually requires high-level virtuosity. The Ballade et Polonaise begins with quiet wistfulness and then becomes increasingly lively, with a brilliant conclusion. The Fantaisie Caprice has more than its share of sweet, singing moments, although it too eventually builds to fast and challenging double stops at the end. And the posthumously published Greeting to America, one of several works written by Vieuxtemps during American tours, is pure fun, building from pizzicato orchestral strings to a combination of “Yankee Doodle,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and plenty of violinistic fireworks. Andrew Mogrelia and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra ably back up Keylin’s delightful handling of these superficial but thoroughly enjoyable works.

Dan Davis, June 2010

Following in Paganini’s footsteps, Henri Vieuxtemps was a touring violinist who composed showpieces that dazzled audiences and earned the respect of the likes of Schumann and Berlioz. Misha Keylin has recorded Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concertos for Naxos (my enthusiastic review of the last three of the seven can be found by typing Q6833 in the Search box) and he now turns to four pieces that offer similar virtuoso opportunities.

In the Fantasia appassionata Op. 35 his mastery of the work’s challenges is evident, especially in the rollicking finale where he plays with fleet-fingered finesse. Even more impressive is the poetic affection and golden timbre he projects in the slower sections. Similar observations hold true for the other pieces as well.

In the Ballade et Polonaise Op. 38 Keylin makes the most of Vieuxtemps’ pensive melodies in the Ballade, and in the Polonaise, announced by the orchestral brass section, he plays with rhythmic lift, the tone ranging from velvety bottom to sweet though not sugary top notes. In the Fantasie Caprice we get more of the same, with impressive double-stop passages for the violin along with a helping of Vieuxtemps’ zesty orchestral writing.

The final piece on the program, Greeting to America, may be the one most listeners will enjoy, if only because its quotes from the Star-Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle make it a potential camp hit, though the violin pyrotechnics offer virtuoso kicks on their own. Still, when the orchestra breaks into the national anthem you’ll think it’s an accidental tape splice from a recording of Madama Butterfly. There are no masterpieces here, but there is plenty of splendid playing by Keylin, good orchestral support by Andrew Mogrelia and the Slovak radio band, and despite the musical equivalent of empty calories, more than enough to satisfy lovers of Romantic violin music.

James Manheim, June 2010

A fine revival of music that has been almost forgotten.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2010

Following his highly acclaimed cycle of Henry Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concertos, Misha Keylin continues with four of the composer’s virtuoso showpieces. Born in Belgium in 1820, Vieuxtemps was a child prodigy who had establishing himself on the international touring circuit in his early teenager years. Largely self-taught as a composer, his first violin concerto was published when he was fourteen, and though not prolific he composed through much of his lifetime. Unlike the works of Paganini, who had greatly impressed the youngster, Vieuxtemps did not fill his scores with the ‘tricks of the trade’, but relied on the soloist’s left hand agility to inject the brilliance required. He was also more aware of the need to write orchestral scores of substance than was common among the great virtuoso violinist/composers. The earliest work here is the Fantasie Caprice composed when he was twenty and is typical of the long flowing lines that characterise his entire output. The much later Fantasia appassionata is more complex in structure, and is an example of his fascination with lyric themes that he than decorates. The Ballade et Polonaise, published the same year in 1860, opens with a wistful ballade, the polonaise bringing a happy change of mood that requires the soloist to fly into the outer stratospheres. For his first American tour in 1842 he composed a pastiche of popular melodies that included The Star Spangled Banner and Yankee Doodle. It must have amused his audience, though it was a piece for an occasion. Throughout the Russian-born American violinist, Misha Keylin, is superb, his intonation impeccable, even in the most mercurial passages, and he has a natural flair for the music. The Slovak Radio Symphony is in outstanding form, the many instrumental solos of the highest quality.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group