Many would consider Fritz Kriesler to be the greatest violinist of the 20th Century. With his immediately recognizable honey tone and effortless Old-World grace, the Viennese stylist played with an unparalleled charm and sensuality. While he’s better known today for the original compositions and arrangements he left, record labels, including EMI and Naxos, have been steadily issuing retrospectives that remind us of his fiddling prowess.
With the 50th anniversary of Kreisler’s death on January 29, Deutsche Grammophon gets into the act with this two-CD compilation, which contains six recordings he made between 1910 and the 1912, as well as reinterpretations from the DG catalogue by modern and past admirers: Jascha Heifetz, Ruggiero Ricci, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gidon Kremer, David Oistrakh, Christian Ferras and Shlomo Mintz.
Born in Vienna in 1875, Kreisler had a career that spanned 68 years and three generations of music lovers. He was the composer of such melodious Viennese salon encores as the popular Liebesfreud and Liebesleid, and wrote notorious pieces "in the style of" various 18th-century masters (which he passed off as their original works, claiming to have rediscovered them in old manuscripts). In the former category, his wonderfully elastic sense of rhythm and phrasing come through clearly in these cleaned-up mono recordings.
The other major part of Kreisler’s catalogue are transcriptions, several featured here. Mintz brings a sultry take on Spanish numbers by Albéniz and Granados; Ferras unleashes some old-school portamento in Dvorak’s Humoresque; and Heifetz slathers on the vibrato in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Hymn To The Sun. Much of the first disc is given over to a reissue of Ruggiero Ricci’s 1962 Kreisler tribute album which contains the Recitativo & Scherzo-Caprice, Kreisler’s major contribution to the solo violin repertoire, and the Praeludium & Allegro “in the style of Pugnani." Perhaps the most unlikely tribute comes from the postmodernist Gidon Kremer, who seems to play up the irony implicit in Kreisler’s Syncopation.
A Tribute to Fritz Kreisler
Available at Arkivmusic.com
From the WQXR Archives: Fritz Kreisler 80th Birthday Tribute (1955)
Kreisler became an American citizen in 1943 and made his home in New York, where he occasionally appeared on WQXR. On February 2, 1955, the station's music director Abram Chasins assembled a tribute special for Fritz Kreisler. It featured great Kreisler recordings plus audio "shout outs" from nine distinguished violinists: Joseph Szigeti, Yehudi Menuhin, Mischa Elman, Nathan Milstein, Erica Morini, Zino Francescatti, Joseph Fuchs, Ruggiero Ricci, Isaac Stern, plus Carl Lamson, Kreisler’s longtime accompanist.