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Hyperion Records

CDA68040 - Kreisler: Violin Music
The Violin Case (1923) by Marie Clementine Valadon (1865-1938)
Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA68040
Recording details: April 2013
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Rachel Smith
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: April 2014
Total duration: 68 minutes 50 seconds

'This estimable Kreisler compilation from the young British violinist Jack Liebeck heralds his new alliance with Hyperion, and one could hardly imagine a more propitious start to their relationship … these disarmingly affectionate and often brilliant accounts of these Kreisler favourites prove unusually satisfying … particularly superb are the transcriptions of Dvořák’s E minor Slavonic Dance, Op 72 No 2 and the ‘Danse espagnole’ from Falla’s La vida breve, both of which are hugely demanding for the violinist and played with élan and bravura here by Liebeck … this is unquestionably a Kreisler disc to which I’ll be returning often and always with pleasure, for these spirited and discerning readings have so much to commend them as to make even minor qualms seem churlish. Liebeck and Apekisheva are heard at their brilliant best in Kreisler’s own formidably taxing reworking of the G minor ‘Devil’s Trill’ Sonata by Tartini. There is indeed something of the Mephistophelean about this astounding account and Liebeck sounds stunning in Kreisler’s intimidating cadenza' (International Record Review) » More

Violin Music

Hyperion is delighted to welcome award-winning violinist Jack Liebeck to the label, together with his frequent collaborator, Katya Apekisheva.

Liebeck presents a selection of music by ‘revolutionary player and the epitome of the Viennese violinist’, Fritz Kreisler. Some of Kreisler’s works have a dubious genesis. He programmed his own pieces in recitals; but in about 1905 he started passing some off as works by composers of the past, even writing a ‘Vivaldi’ concerto. He continued this practice. In 1934 he instructed his American publisher, Carl Fischer, to list his so-called ‘Classical Manuscripts’ as his own compositions in the 1935 catalogue; but this change was pre-empted when the New York Times critic, Olin Downes, was asked to give a lecture-recital with Yehudi Menuhin and started investigating the origins of the Praeludium and Allegro. Kreisler admitted it was his own work and his deception made front-page news worldwide. The Praeludium and Allegro (Classical Manuscript No 5, attributed to Gaetano Pugnani) is Kreisler’s finest achievement. When playing it at the Paris Opéra in 1923, Kreisler saw Vincent d’Indy wag a finger at him from the front row and thought he had been found out. Afterwards d’Indy told him: ‘Pugnani would not have played the Allegro in that tempo.’

This selection includes Kreisler’s absurdly virtuosic arrangement of ‘The Devil’s Trill’ by Tartini: Kreisler’s edition, incorporating a realization of the figured bass as well as fingerings and phrasings, provides a fearsome cadenza involving triple- and quadruple-stopping as well as two- and three-note trills.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Today there are doubtless people who have never heard Fritz Kreisler’s many records and know him solely as the composer of delightful violin pieces. In his own time, he was regarded as a revolutionary player and the epitome of the Viennese violinist, and a distinct hint of scandal hung about his compositions. He was born Friedrich Kreisler in Vienna on 2 February 1875, the son of a Polish doctor who was an amateur violinist. After lessons from his father and Jacques Auber, concertmaster at the Ringtheater, in 1882 he became the youngest student to be admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, studying violin with Joseph Hellmesberger Jnr and composition with Anton Bruckner. Having won the gold medal at the age of ten, he transferred to the Paris Conservatoire, where two of his tutors were Joseph Massart for violin and Léo Delibes for composition. He graduated with the first violin prize in 1887 and in 1888–9 toured America. He then continued his education, spent two years studying medicine and did his military service. In 1896 he began his career as a virtuoso, making an impression everywhere with his new style of playing, using continuous vibrato. After his Vienna debut in 1898 and his Berlin debut a year later, his progress round Europe was a triumphal march. He revisited America in 1900 and in 1902 made such an impact on London that in 1904 he was awarded the Philharmonic Society gold medal.

From the start Kreisler programmed his own pieces in recitals; but in about 1905 he started passing some off as works by composers of the past, even writing a ‘Vivaldi’ concerto. His excuse was that ‘when I was desirous of enlarging my programmes … I found it impudent and tactless to repeat my name endlessly on the programmes’. As only a relative handful of Baroque and Classical works were then known, no one spotted that his Vivaldi sounded nothing like real Vivaldi and that other pieces were also pastiches. It is amusing to read critics lambasting Kreisler for daring to play his own trifles on the same programmes as these superb pieces by great composers such as Pugnani and Couperin! Kreisler bare-facedly told one journalist that he ‘discovered a collection of MSS, music in the possession of the monks who inhabit one of the oldest monasteries in Europe, and so anxious was he to have them for his own that he copied one of the pieces on his shirt-cuff. To this the monks objected, and eventually Kreisler, after much persuasion, succeeded in purchasing the whole collection for a considerable sum of money’. In 1909 he told the New York Times: ‘I discovered the pieces in an old convent in the south of France. I have altogether 53 manuscripts of this sort in my possession. Five of them are more or less valueless. Forty-eight of them are gems.’ As years went by, style-conscious colleagues began to smell a rat. As early as 1910, Kreisler was ticked off by the Berlin critic Leopold Schmidt for including his own Caprice viennois next to gems by Lanner, and had to point out that the ‘Lanner’ pieces were also by him—they were his Liebesfreud and Liebesleid. In that very year, fourteen of the fakes were published as ‘Classical Manuscripts’—the publisher Willy Strecker of Schott had offered Kreisler $1,000 for twenty pieces—and within six months 70,000 copies were sold.

Also in 1910, Kreisler premiered Elgar’s Violin Concerto, dedicated to him, in London with the composer conducting. After brief army service in the Great War, he was wounded and honourably discharged. Moving to New York, he was at first treated as a hero; but once the United States entered the war in 1917 the attitude of many Americans, especially those in the provinces, changed—accused of sending money to the Austrian army, he pointed out that the funds were for his ageing father and war orphans. Fans in the big cities stood by him but it took him several years to recover his former popularity. By contrast he was welcomed back to London in 1920. In 1923 he toured the Far East and in 1924 he moved into a new house in Berlin; but with the advent of the Nazis in 1933, he boycotted Germany over the treatment of his fellow Jews. In 1934 he instructed his American publisher, Carl Fischer, to list the ‘Classical Manuscripts’ as his own compositions in the 1935 catalogue; but this change was pre-empted when the New York Times critic, Olin Downes, was asked to give a lecture-recital with Yehudi Menuhin and started investigating the origins of the Praeludium and Allegro. Kreisler admitted it was his own work and his deception made front-page news worldwide. Most people were amused but the English critic Ernest Newman took a particularly huffy attitude. Following the Anschluss of Austria by Hitler in 1938, Kreisler became a French citizen, then emigrated to the United States. In 1941 he was hit by a truck while absent-mindedly crossing a New York street, and although he recovered and did not stop playing in public until 1950, he was never the same force again. He died in New York on 29 January 1962.

Kreisler’s compositions include two operettas and a string quartet. His popular pieces, some of which he recorded as many as six times, were published as Folksongs from Austria, Small Pieces, Classical Manuscripts, Masterworks of the Violin, Original Compositions and Transcriptions. They reflect his twin skills as a colorist on the violin and as a pianist—he and Harold Bauer once performed Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Violin Sonata in New York, then switched instruments to play it again at the after-concert party.

The Praeludium and Allegro (Classical Manuscript No 5, attributed to Gaetano Pugnani) is Kreisler’s finest achievement. The Prelude is memorable, the Allegro marvellously virtuosic. When playing it at the Paris Opéra in 1923, Kreisler saw Vincent d’Indy wag a finger at him from the front row and thought he had been found out. Afterwards d’Indy told him: ‘Pugnani would not have played the Allegro in that tempo.’ Sadly Kreisler never recorded it.

Syncopation is Kreisler’s contribution to the European vogue for American rags and cakewalks. In 1926 he published two arrangements, the present one for violin and piano and another for piano trio, stemming from his 1924 recording with his cellist brother Hugo and Charlton Keith.

Schön Rosmarin and the matching pair Liebesleid (Love’s sorrow) and Liebesfreud (Love’s joy), published as Classical Manuscripts under the subtitle Old Viennese Dance Tunes, are Kreisler’s most popular pieces in Viennese waltz style. The latter two were famously transcribed for piano and recorded by Rachmaninov.

Polichinelle, quite fast for a serenade and almost scherzando in mood, was written in America in 1917, when Kreisler was not giving concerts and so had time on his hands. He also worked on his first operetta, Apple Blossoms, and his string quartet during this time. Tambourin chinois (Original Composition No 3), originated long before Kreisler visited China. ‘I enjoyed very much writing my Tambourin chinois’, he said. ‘The idea for it came to me after a visit to the Chinese theatre in San Francisco—not that the music there suggested any theme, but it gave me the impulse to write a free fantasy in the Chinese manner.’

The Mélodie (Masterworks of the Violin No 8), is a sensitive transcription of the Lento from the Dance of the Blessed Spirits in Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Kreisler perhaps saw the perky Toy Soldiers’ March, with its imitation between violin and piano, as a teaching piece—it was published in 1917 in both an adult version and a simplified edition for children. La chasse (Classical Manuscript No 16), attributed to Jean-Baptiste Cartier, is a superb evocation of the hunt, with the violin imitating a horn. Requiring clean articulation from the player, it can be performed effectively without the piano accompaniment.

Caprice viennois (Original Composition No 2) was Kreisler’s own favourite among his tributes to his native city. It is beautifully constructed in four sections, with the nostalgic slow waltz theme appearing twice. Kreisler published two Classical Manuscripts entitled Allegretto, one in 1913 allegedly by Porpora and an earlier one (No 8, recorded here) assigned to Luigi Boccherini. A charming gavotte, it makes clever use of trills. The Danse espagnole, published in 1926 as Transcription No 18, comes from Manuel de Falla’s early zarzuela La vida breve. It is a splendid jota, which heralds the tragic Salud’s appearance at Paco’s wedding to Carmela. In one of his most successful arrangements, Kreisler deploys a battery of violinistic devices.

In 1903 Kreisler visited the ailing Antonín Dvorák in Prague and came away with one of the piano Humoresques—his arrangement, published in 1906, provided Dvorák’s widow with much-needed funds. In 1914 he issued seven more Dvorák arrangements, several of them very free (one of them even conflated two Slavonic Dances). His version of the Slavonic Dance in E minor, Op 72 No 2, a dreamy mazurka in three strains, keeps closer to Dvorák’s original.

Like Syncopation, the delightful Marche miniature viennoise was issued (in 1925) in versions for violin and piano and piano trio, having been recorded as a trio in 1924. It is in three sections, two of which are repeated. The piano supplies the oompahs. The Recitativo and Scherzo for solo violin, published in 1911 as Op 6, bears the dedication ‘À Eugène Ysaÿe, le maître et l’ami’. The Recitativo demands the parlando bowing that was a persuasive part of Kreisler’s armoury, while the Scherzo calls for considerable virtuosity. A dozen years later Ysaÿe returned the compliment by dedicating the fourth of his solo sonatas to Kreisler.

Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770) once dreamt that Satan played a piece to him with the most amazing trill, and when he awoke tried to capture it on paper as a sonata in G minor, Il trillo del Diavolo (‘The Devil’s trill’). Tartini throws in some pretty devilish trills and indicates that a cadenza may be improvised towards the end of the sonata. Kreisler’s edition, incorporating a realization of the figured bass as well as fingerings and phrasings, provides a fearsome cadenza involving triple- and quadruple-stopping as well as two- and three-note trills. Even in this era of ‘authentic’ performance, it remains popular with violinists who have the technique and stamina for it.

Tully Potter © 2014

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