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Caprice viennois Op 2
Tambourin chinois Op 3
Schön Rosmarin
La gitana
The Old Refrain
Marche miniature viennoise
Rondino on a Theme by Beethoven
Londonderry Air arr KREISLER
HAYDN arr KREISLER Hungarian Rondo
Chanson LOUIS XIII and Pavane
Stars in My Eyes (From The King Steps Out)
Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) violin with
Victor Symphony Orchestra/Charles OíConnell
Victor Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees
RCA Victor Orchestra/Donald Voorhees
Recorded 1942-1946 Philadelphia and New York
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110947 [60.06]

These are among Kreislerís last recordings. His May 1945 recording of the Concerto in C in the style of Vivaldi has already been issued by Naxos (8.110922) and a few off-air broadcasts from 1943-45 have also appeared, mostly from the Bell Telephone Hour. None adds substantially to his discography.

At 67 Kreislerís career was on the wane, exacerbated by appalling injuries he sustained whilst crossing a New York street in 1941 (a picture of the violinist, bloody and dazed, is reproduced in Amy Biancolliís recent biography and makes for grim viewing). He had recovered in time to record the first session on this CD, in arrangements made by himself, in Philadelphia in January 1942. It would be idle to suggest that Kreisler had emerged unscathed from the vicissitudes that afflict any artist in his sixties; nor that his technical armoury was entirely intact. The flatness of pitch in the higher registers of the E string makes itself uncomfortably present on a few occasions (he seems always to have played flat rather than sharp) and other blemishes, generally minor, manifest themselves. The Kreisler tone of 1941, whilst still beautiful, was not the ravishingly vibrant one of 1912.

We are, however, lucky to have these recordings at all and can appreciate his miraculous rhythmic faculties Ė his rubato is still an object lesson in phrasing. Listening to the extraordinary flexibility of his 1942 Tambourin Chinois, a piece he had already recorded five times in his career, is to wonder again at his musical daring and inevitable rightness. His tempi are as deliberate as ever, his double-stopping is admirably true, his portamenti are quick and subtle, his performances affectionate and generous. In the somewhat boxy acoustic of the Academy of Music a section of the Philadelphia Orchestra (contractually here called the Victor Symphony Orchestra) plays a selection of his favourites. The piquant arrangements are Kreislerís and feature drums, a glistening harp, fey Celeste, woodwind shadowing the melody line, some surging string tone and a confection of highly spiced Kreisleriana. In Caprice viennois, a piece he had recorded six times, we can hear that rather twee Celeste, as well as Kreislerís own supreme sovereignty of rubato. That rhythmic licence and élan can fully be appreciated in the Tambourin chinois where the middle section is superbly flexible. A little, appropriate, tambourine crash adds to the excitement, as does Kreislerís own word of pleasure at the end - "beautiful".

Elsewhere many distinguishing features of an elite musicianís art can be savoured Ė the way he varies with infinite skill the repeated phrases of Liebesfreud, the apposite decorations in Heubergerís Midnight Bells, the way he allows the woodwind an imitative trill in his arrangement of the Marche miniature viennoise, the beautiful bowing in the Chanson Louis X111 and Pavane. Of course frailties co-exist with his extraordinary musicality Ė the thinning tone, especially in the Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta composed especially for the 1946 New York sessions, the high position slips in the Heuberger, the flatness of intonation.

Nevertheless these performances capture a great artist in his final years and, if hardly representative of his best years, they still allow us to savour those many qualities that had led him to revolutionize violin playing and galvanize two generations of musicians. The transfers are good and the notes, by Tully Potter, equally so.

Jonathan Woolf

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