RUSSIAN AND SLAVONIC MINIATURES (Milana Chernyavska/ Nicolas Koeckert/ Teije van Geest) (Naxos: 8.557388)
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Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Transcriptions for Violin and Piano
Fritz Kreisler was born in Vienna in 1875, the son of adoctor. It was the latter, a keen amateur violinist, whofirst taught his son the instrument from the age of four.
Lessons followed with Jacques Auber and at the age ofseven he was able to enter the Vienna Conservatory.
There he studied the violin with the younger JosephHellmesberger and was instructed in musical theory byAnton Bruckner.
At the age of ten he won the Conservatory GoldMedal. Thereafter he entered the Paris Conservatoire asa pupil of Massart, taking theory lessons from Delibes.
Two years later he won the Premier Grand Prix, anhonour he shared with four other players, all of them agood ten years older. This success marked the end of hisprofessional training as a violinist.
By the age of fourteen Kreisler had embarked on aninternational career as a virtuoso, travelling in 1888 tothe United States with the pianist Moriz Rosenthal in aconcert tour. The following year he returned to Viennafor further schooling and for initial medical training,before his military service. By 1896, however, he hadresolved to return to a musical career and although hefailed to pass the audition to join the Vienna CourtOpera Orchestra, in 1898 he was able to appear with thesame players as a soloist and to resume with greatersuccess his international career, with concerts in Berlin,in the United States, in London and elsewhere. In 1910in London, indeed, he was able to give the firstperformance of Elgar's Violin Concerto, which wasdedicated to him.
Wounded during war service in the Austrian armyduring the early months of the Great War, he was able todevote time to composition, particularly of the shortviolin pieces for which he is well known. His return tothe United States was not at first well received by thepublic, and in 1924 he settled in Berlin, where heremained based until the annexation of Austria in 1938.
In spite of the offer of French citizenship, he returned tothe United States, where he continued his career, until anaccident forced him to reduce his schedule. He gave hisfinal public concert in 1950, and died in New York in1962.
Kreisler's style of playing included an extended useof vibrato, applied to shorter as well as longer notes. Hisvery personal methods of fingering are preserved in themany editions he made of major works in the violinrepertoire, while his use of the bow ensured a sweetnessof tone that avoided excessive pressure or forcedvolume. As a composer he provided a number oftranscriptions, as well as a series of short compositionsattributed by him to lesser known composers of the past.
His eventual revelation of the true authorship of thesepieces provoked some hostility from critics, who,incredibly, had accepted the original attributions. Thesepopular compositions have all continued in standardrepertoire, although the validity of the attributions wouldhardly convince a modern audience.
The present recording is of transcriptions made byKreisler, as distinct from his original so-called ClassicalManuscripts and his editions under the title MasterWorks. Included here are, in particular, transcriptions ofcompositions by Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky andDvofiak. The first of these is represented by the Hymn tothe Sun 1 from the opera Le Coq d'or (The GoldenCockerel), the composer's last opera, completed in 1907and based on a libretto by Vladimir Bel'sky, itselfderived from Pushkin, who had had his own source inthe work of Washington Irving. In the story, whichseems to mock authority in its portrayal of officialincompetence, the Hymn to the Sun is sung by the evilQueen of Shemakha, as she sets about the conquest ofthe ineffectual King Dodon.
The Oriental Dance 2 and Arab Song 5 are takenfrom Rimsky-Korsakov's 1888 symphonic suiteScherherazade based on elements of The ArabianNights, with its prominent r??le for a solo violin. TheIndian Song 12 is taken from the opera Sadko of 1897, inwhich an Indian trader sings of the riches of his country,before the hero of the opera sets out on his long andvaried adventures. The final work included here is aFantasy on themes from Rimsky-Korsakov, a composerwhose technical competence, gradually acquired, hadbrought him to a leading position as a survivor amongthe Russian nationalist composers of the ninteteenthcentury.
Tchaikovsky, unlike Rimsky-Korsakov, who hadenjoyed an earlier career as a naval officer, was trainedin music at the newly established Conservatory in StPetersburg, going on to teach at the parallelestablishment in Moscow, until relieved of duties that hefound tedious by the intervention of a generousbenefactor. Two of the present transcriptions, theScherzo 4 and Chant sans paroles 8, are drawn fromhis Souvenir de Hapsal, a collection of three pianopieces, dedicated in 1867 to Vera Dav?»dova as asouvenir of a holiday spent with the Dav?»dovs, thefamily into which his sister Sasha had married. TheHumoresque 6 is also taken from a piano piece byTchaikovsky, one of two such works from 1871.
Tchaikovsky himself arranged the Humoresque forviolin and piano in 1877, as his career at the MoscowConservatory and his brief and ill-considered marriageboth came to an end. The well-known Andante cantabile16 is taken from his String Quartet No.1 in D major of1871, a slow movement that he later arranged for celloand orchestra and the performance of which by a stringorchestra he accepted.
Dvofiak offered a rich source for possibletranscription. Included here are the versions of the bestknown of Dvofiak's Gypsy Melodies, Songs my mothertaught me 3 and of the ubiquitous Humoresque 9.
Three of the Slavonic Dances are transcibed 7, 13 and14, works originally for piano duet. The so-calledSlavonic Fantasy 10 draws on Songs my mother taughtme and elements of Dvofiak's Four Romantic Pieces.
Dvofiak's inspiration came largely from his nativeBohemia, where he did much to foster national musicaltraditions. In 1892 he was invited to serve as director ofthe newly established National Conservatory in NewYork, positions he held until 1895. The musical result ofhis stay in America, still essentially Bohemian incharacter, is heard in two of Kreisler's transcriptions.
The so-called Negro Spiritual Melody 11 is, in fact, thecor anglais theme from the slow movement of Dvofiak'sSymphony 'From the New World', a melody that,whatever its original inspiration, later acquired words,elevated to the status of folk-song. The so-called IndianLament 15 is also from Dvofiak's American period, theslow movement of his Sonatina for violin and piano, itsmelody suggested, apparently, at the sight of theMinnehaha Falls, further possible evidence of thecomposer's fascination with Longfellow's Hiawatha.Keith Anderson