Recordings of Kreisler the miniaturist

Classical Sounds

January 14, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Fritz Kreisler, The Complete RCA Recordings (BMG Classics 09026-61649-2)

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) ruled the violin world from about 1910 to 1920. When the young Jascha Heifetz entered the arena after World War I, he forced the older Kreisler to share top honors, though with a difference.

Heifetz was "the violinist," achieving by bow arm and fingers a standard of perfection still unequaled. But nobody ever loved the cool and remote (personally, not musically) Heifetz; you kneel before Mount Olympus -- you do not embrace it.

Kreisler, on the other hand, was "the violin." Everybody loved him. Kreisler's generosity, warmth and aristocratic bearing were reflected in his playing, as this wonderful, 11-CD set demonstrates.

Kreisler is so deeply identified with old-fashioned Viennese charm that it is sometimes forgotten that he was, in many respects, the first modern violinist. He was the first to play with a continuous vibrato, which meant that he played with an intensity expression heretofore unknown. His sound was beautiful, his rhythm was unerring and his long phrases were, in the words of Carl Flesch, "an unrestrained orgy of sinfully seductive sounds, depravedly fascinating, whose sole driving force appeared to be a sensuality intensified to the point of frenzy."

Flesch was a puritan and Kreisler was a great musician, whose talents included a gift for discerning musical architecture. His great recordings of concerti by Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Mendelssohn and Mozart make that indisputably clear. Those recordings, however, are not to be found in this collection -- they were recorded by Victor's British affiliate, HMV, and are still available.

What this set gives us is primarily Kreisler the miniaturist. A great deal of repetition is here: five recordings of Kreisler's own "Caprice viennois," four recordings of Dvorak's "Humoresque," four recordings each of Kreisler's "Liebesfreud" and "Liebeslied."

Never mind. Each time Kreisler played a piece, the delicacy of his rubato, the subtlety of his phrasing and the spontaneity of his expression made it different. About the only thing many of the performances of the same piece have in common is that each is likely to dampen your eyes.

Some big pieces are here: Kreisler's tremendous performances, with the great pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, of Grieg's Minor Sonata, Beethoven's G Major Sonata (opus 30, No. 3) and Schubert's A Major Sonata. But this collection is primarily marzipan. And with Kreisler as confectioner, this is one box of sweets that will never cloy.

Hear the music To hear an excerpt from Fritz Kreisler's "The Complete RCA Recordings," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6190. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

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