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ClassicsOnline Home » KREISLER, Fritz: Complete Recordings, Vol. 5 (1919-1924)
The years 1919–24 saw Fritz Kreisler re-establish himself after the First World War. Initial hostility to him in America was eventually overcome, and the resumption of his recording schedule saw a steady stream of inimitable offerings from the most beloved violinist of the time. There are rarities in this sequence of acoustic sides, not least his recording of black American Clarence Cameron White’s spiritual setting and an elusive 1921 recording of Charles Dawes’s Melody in A. Additionally, Kreisler never rerecorded his beautiful performance of his own Aucassin and Nicolette.
By Julian Haylock
BBC Music Magazine
Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962)
The Complete Recordings • 5
The years covered by these sessions, 1919–24, were momentous for Fritz Kreisler as he strove to reestablish himself in the wake of the Great War. Still domiciled in the United States, but judging it wiser not to give concerts, he spent much of 1919 on the operetta Apple Blossoms, with a libretto by William Le Baron and music by Kreisler and his collaborator Victor Jacobi, which opened at the Globe Theater, New York, on 7 October. A hit with audiences and critics, it ran for more than a year. Kreisler supplied nine of the nineteen songs, Jacobi eight, and two were joint creations. On 27 October Kreisler played his first recital after his nineteen-month lay-off, at Carnegie Hall in aid of the Vienna Children’s Milk Relief, to an overwhelming ovation. This metropolitan success did not help his cause with the less sophisticated audiences of middle America, however; and as soon as he resumed touring, he met resistance, mainly from branches of the American Legion who still regarded him as an enemy alien. In one town he was forbidden to play German music, in several others he was forced to cancel recitals and in Ithaca, New York, a near-riot erupted before Legion members cut off the power. Kreisler and his pianist Carl Lamson played the last forty minutes in darkness. But in Boston he was kindly received and in New York City, where he performed the Mendelssohn Concerto and four short pieces at a Metropolitan Opera Sunday-night concert on 21 December, he was greeted with a massive ovation by an audience of 4,000. In January 1920 he returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra and in March he played the Brahms Concerto twice on consecutive days with the New York Philharmonic. In June he and his wife Harriet made their first trip back to Austria, to distribute food and clothing to people starving in the aftermath of the war. Back in America for the new season, he was as popular as ever: he even had to turn down a request from the St Louis Symphony to become their conductor. When he played three concertos—his own ‘Vivaldi’ C major, Viotti’s A minor and the Beethoven—in London on 4 May, he was welcomed back with a most un-British fervour. ‘Not only was there not a dissentient voice at Kreisler’s recital at Queen’s Hall on Wednesday afternoon, but his reception surpassed in warmth of feeling everything of the kind that any of us can remember,’ wrote Ernest Newman in the Sunday Times. ‘The triumph was in part Kreisler’s own. For one thing he gave us such violin playing as we have not heard for years; we had almost forgotten there could be such a union of strength and tenderness, of exquisite beauty of tone and masterfulness of conception.’ During his stay his Quartet was given its British premiere by the London String Quartet, before an audience including Elgar, Wood, Lamond, Sammons and Moiseiwitsch, and his two recitals were sold out. On 5 October he performed his three concertos in Vienna and on 21 November he played the Beethoven Concerto in Berlin with the Philharmonic under Arthur Nikisch, donating his fee to the orchestra. Returning to England, he was especially busy on 16 December: in the morning he and his cellist brother Hugo made records at Hayes for HMV with pianist Charlton Keith, including four attempts at his arrangement of the Londonderry Air; in the afternoon he gave a recital at Queen’s Hall; and in the evening he played for Prime Minister David Lloyd George at 10 Downing Street. Harriet suggested he play the Londonderry Air, so he and Keith improvised a solo version on the spot. A successful take with Hugo was recorded the following day.
The most exciting time for Kreisler was the spring of 1923, when he made his first tour of the Far East. Having travelled via the west coast of America, he and Harriet arrived in Yokohama on 20 April with the German accompanist Michael Raucheisen—who usually worked with him in mainland Europe. He then made his way to Shanghai for his first recital on the 28th, followed by another. Then it was back to Japan for eight concerts in the Imperial Theatre, Tokyo. Only at this stage did he find that he was expected to play solely sonatas: the library of every music-loving European had to be ransacked for the necessary music. ‘Kreisler had, of course, not prepared for such an unusual situation,’ Raucheisen recalled. ‘Imagine, eight different programmes! And yet, one—I repeat, one—rehearsal sufficed, and Kreisler played the sonatas which he had not had on his repertoire for many years, by heart, without a single flaw in memory.’ Needless to say he slipped in a few of his popular short pieces. The travellers survived quite a severe earthquake before leaving for engagements in Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto, followed by more in Yokohama and Tokyo. The tour took them to Seoul in Korea, then via Mukden in South Manchuria to Peking and Tientsin in China. In that country they at first played only for Europeans; but two days before they were due to leave Peking, Kreisler was invited to become the first European artist to perform for the Chinese intelligentsia in the Celestial City itself: he played an unaccompanied Bach work, which had to be repeated, then a Beethoven sonata and finally a group of short pieces. After two more concerts in Shanghai, the party set out for Japan, en route for the United States, only to be tossed about for twelve hours by a typhoon; but Kreisler was so full of enthusiastic impressions of his Oriental sojourn that his friend John McCormack undertook a similar tour in 1926. Having suffered the rough side of the elements in the Far East, Kreisler experienced the equally stormy effects of the terrible inflation in Germany in the latter part of 1923; and he and Harriet made themselves responsible for feeding between 600 and 800 poverty-stricken Berlin children every day.
Our sequence opens with a leftover from the 23 May 1919 session, a rather perfunctory rendition of the Song of the Hindu Merchant from Sadko: even though it is Take 4, and Kreisler must by then have been well in the groove, it cannot match the expression that tenors such as Smirnov or Kozlovsky have brought to this aria. At the next session on 4 June, having expended seven takes over three sessions on trying to perfect a twelve-inch version of Thomas Koschat’s Forsaken, Kreisler switched to ten-inch waxes and succeeded first time, although he still did four further takes. This ‘Corinthian Melody’ shows off the violinist’s fine G-string tone at the start and finishes equally well on the E string. Chant, by the black American violinist-composer Clarence Cameron White, is one of his Bandana Sketches based on spirituals—in this case Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen, nicely played by Kreisler. Then comes one of Kreisler’s legendary arrangements, of Dvořák’s best-known Humoresque for piano. He had already tried in January 1916 and February 1919 to replace his 1910 piano-accompanied disc, without success, but this elegant new version with harp and orchestra took over the old catalogue number and proved quite a hit. After sessions in April and May 1920 with McCormack, Kreisler had a largely abortive day in the studio on 1 June, achieving only his own song Who can tell? from Apple Blossoms, played con amore. Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube was to go through seven ten-inch takes and four twelve-inch without success, and Grieg’s To Spring was deemed a failure with orchestra, as was Brahms’s most popular piano Waltz arranged by the young American violinist David Hochstein, who had been killed in the war. Jacobi’s pleasant waltz On Miami Shore was to need thirteen takes in all, being finished only on 29 December; and in the meantime Kreisler managed Love Nest, from Louis A. Hirsch’s Mary, on the beautifully played fifth of six takes.
On 31 March 1921, Kreisler welcomed Carl Lamson back to the studios; and the rest of his Victor acoustic discs, apart from two remakes with string trio, featured this competent pianist. They began with a delectable rarity, Kreisler’s own Aucassin and Nicolette, which at that time he attributed to Couperin. It is one of his most charming discs, which makes one wonder why he never returned to it. To Spring, passionately played, and the Brahms-Hochstein Waltz, with lovely double-stopping, were both achieved, as were the most-loved piece by Kreisler’s Czech violinist colleague František Drdla, Souvenir, and Kreisler’s own delightful Toy Soldier’s March. A melting performance of the Melody in A by General Charles G. Dawes, with superb double-stopping, should have satisfied everyone; but for some reason Kreisler returned to it at two 1924 sessions and one of those takes was issued with the same catalogue number, making this 1921 version very rare. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Hymn to the Sun received just one take and was finally sorted out next day, very satisfactorily. The first item from the two sessions the following year, Cyril Scott’s exotic Lotus Land, was never officially sanctioned but luckily Take 1 survived as a test pressing: it is played with great freshness and spontaneity. Frederick Logan’s Pale Moon (Indian Love Song) is a fine example of Kreisler’s parlando bowing, as is the first of two arrangements from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which shows just what is missing from the Song of the Hindu Merchant—ironically its eventual coupling on a double-sided disc. The second Scheherazade arrangement features brilliant bowing, staccato and double-stops. A sad casualty was the Romance from Grieg’s C minor Sonata, given five unsuccessful takes—fortunately in 1928 Kreisler recorded the whole work with Rachmaninov at the piano. The final 1922 record was Scott’s well-known arrangement of Charles Edward Horn’s tune Cherry Ripe. Just one session was held in 1923, and sadly Millocker’s Blue Lagoon and Tchaikovsky’s Berceuse were lost for ever. But four lovely sides were issued: A. Walter Kramer’s Entr’acte, with beautiful trills; Chopin’s A minor Mazurka, spiced with double-stops, a change of register and a trill; Paderewski’s evergreen Mélodie, a heartfelt account, beautifully phrased; and Heuberger’s Midnight Bells, with parlando bowing and double-stops. We end with two popular ballads of the day from the first 1924 session: John Openshaw’s Love Sends a Little Gift of Roses and Ernest Seitz’s The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise. Both gain from Kreisler’s trademark parlando, just one aspect of his astonishing bow control. Tracks 18, 19, 20, 22, 24 and 25 were given single-sided releases only in England; in America they went straight to double-sided discs.
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