Rodolphe Kreutzer: Violin Concertos No 17, 18 & 19 / Axel Strauss
KREUTZER Violin Concertos: No. 17 in G; No. 18 in e; No. 19 in d • Axel Strauss (vn); Andrew Mogrelia, cond; San Francisco Conservatory O • NAXOS 8570380 (71: 52)
From a position of relative neglect (only his 40 studies for violin remained really active in the repertoire), Rodolphe Kreutzer has risen to greater prominence with recordings of his studies (by Elizabeth Wallfisch, cpo 999901, Fanfare 32:5) and concertos (No. 19 in D Minor, No. 18 in E Minor, and No. 15 in A Major, with violinist Laurent Albrecht Breuninger and Alun Francis conducting the SWR Radio Orchestra Kaiserlautern, on cpo 777188, Fanfare 33:6; and No. 9 in E Minor, No. 13 in D Major, the Variations on “Nel cor più non mi sento,” and Montanyas Regaladas , with violinist Saskia Lethiec and José Ferreira Lobo conducting the Orquestra do Norte, Porto, and the Versailles Conservatory Instrumental Ensemble, Talent 2911 126, Fanfare 33:1) now being frequently issued. In fact, Breuninger’s recording included Kreutzer’s last two concertos, the 18th and 19th, which Axel Strauss now offers along with the roughly contemporaneous 17th.
The slow movement of Kreutzer’s 17th concerto provides ample—and poignant—melodic relief from the bold thematic statements and technical passagework that mark much of its first movement. If Giovanni Battista Viotti, who’s often linked with Kreutzer (the French “Viotti-Rode-Kreutzer Concerto”) introduced Haydn’s symphonic orchestration into the violin concerto’s armamentarium, Kreutzer approached the sound of Beethoven’s orchestra, as Bruce R. Schueneman’s notes point out. But Kreutzer kept the violin at the forefront, a position that Axel Strauss and his 1845 J. F. Pressenda violin commandingly occupy. He’s snappy and alert in the passagework, as well, delivering impressive barrages of double-stops and sharply characterizing, both stylistically and rhythmically, the Rondo finale’s thematic material. And, as in the first movement’s second theme, he imparts an almost nostalgic sweetness to his reading of the second movement. Those who expect a clone of Viotti’s more familiar concertos (a greater number of them have remained in print) may be pleasantly surprised by Kreutzer’s inventiveness and keen ear for orchestral timbres.
The 18th and 19th concertos begin with Moderato movements, both almost double the length of the six-odd-minute affair that opens the 17th Concerto. As does the 17th, the 18th begins with a movement that explores the passagework, notably in double-stops, that must have stood near the avant garde of violinists’ technical capabilities at the time Kreutzer wrote it; although hardly a virtuoso vehicle in today’s terms, it exploits the instrument’s idiomatic possibilities with a canniness that the trailblazing composers of the era seemed to possess in abundance (else, how could the violin have achieved the prominence it did?), presenting them in the context of dramatic orchestral statements and barnstorming tuttis. Strauss hardly plays this work, or the 17th Concerto, for that matter, dismissively, as many might do (hear how seriously he takes the recitative passages in the middle of the first movement); perhaps the sense of history developed by period instrumentalists has opened the eyes even of world-weary and everything-but-masterpiece-disdaining conservatory students to the merits of compositions like this one. Strauss once again brings a plausible plaintiveness to the second movement with its melody flowing over a light accompaniment and an exuberant if dignified vitality to the final Rondo. Like the first movement of the 17th Concerto, that of the 19th (which Schueneman cites Boris Schwarz as considering, with Viotti’s celebrated 22nd, as one of the outstanding examples of the French Violin Concerto—Joachim admired these two concertos as well, placing Viotti’s just after Beethoven’s and ahead of Mendelssohn’s and Brahms’s) develops the contrast between the lyrical and the dramatic, which continues, in its way, into the second movement, while the finale provides the usual good-natured conclusion (often, as here, with the principal theme in dotted rhythms).
Those who consider Kreutzer’s studies mere drudgery that a violinist has to endure on the way to the Paganini caprices should discover in these concertos, as well as in the others that have been recorded, a composer of unsuspected talent, even one worthy of Beethoven’s dedication of the famous Ninth Sonata. The engineers have placed the violin in the forefront of the San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra, which plays with vibrant and sonorous enthusiasm. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Catalog Number: 8570380
Composer: Rodolphe Kreutzer
Conductor: Andrew Mogrelia
Orchestra/Ensemble: San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra
Performer: Axel Strauss