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ClassicsOnline Home » KREISLER, Fritz: Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 (1911-1912)
When Fritz Kreisler made his first London recordings towards the end of 1911, he was already wildly popular in Britain. He was equally busy in Berlin and Vienna and
visited the United States on occasion. Here is a chance to enjoy light music making of a high order from an era long before the birth of ‘historically informed’ performance practice. Alongside favourites such as Tchaikovsky’s Chant sans paroles are recordings of Kreisler’s own compositions, as well as alternative takes and duplications explained by the HMV and Victor engineers’ constant striving to improve on the sound quality of popular pieces such as Liebesleid and Liebesfreud.
The Complete Recordings • 2
When Fritz Kreisler made his first London recordings towards the end of 1911, he was already wildly popular in Britain and hardly a week seemed to go by without one of his concerts—as he was equally busy in Berlin and Vienna and visited the United States every so often, he was a much sought-after man. He was regarded as a huge catch by His Master’s Voice, even though the label already had access to the Berlin and New York records featured in the first volume of this series (8.112053). When the Gramophone Company Limited held its AGM on 31 October 1911, declaring a profit of £184,749 7s 5d (£39,000 more than the previous year) shareholders were proudly told that Paderewski, Kubelík, Tetrazzini and Kreisler had recently been making discs and that the Italian diva was to sing that very evening to two thousand of the firm’s employees. Kreisler’s British schedule for the past year had been mainly bound up with the new Elgar Concerto. He and the composer had held preliminary rehearsals during Gloucester Festival week in September 1910, the première in London on 10 November had been a huge success and from 31 December to 24 May 1911 Kreisler had given at least eight more performances, five in London with Elgar, Arbos, Ronald and Wood conducting, and various others in such centres as Liverpool and Manchester. Several of the concerts had featured two or three concertos—on one occasion the Brahms Double Concerto with Pablo Casals—and in addition the violinist had given the odd solo recital and trio concerts with Harold Bauer and Casals, as well as appearing at Chappell ballad concerts. Elgar performances had continued in the autumn of 1911 and so, when he went to the HMV studios at Hayes on 10 October with his regular British accompanist Haddon Squire, Kreisler was well in the groove.
Born Friedrich Kreisler in Vienna on 2 February 1875, the son of a Polish physician, he could read music at three. His first violin lessons came from his father Salomon, a keen amateur, and he went on to Jacques Auber, leader of the Ringtheater orchestra. In 1882 he became the youngest student admitted to the Vienna Conservatory, where among his tutors were Josef Hellmesberger Jnr (violin) and Anton Bruckner (composition), and made his début at Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) with the singer Carlotta Patti, sister of Adelina. ‘Some very great men played at the Conservatory when I was a pupil,’ he recalled. ‘There were Joachim, Sarasate in his prime, Hellmesberger [Snr], and [Anton] Rubinstein, whom I heard play the first time he came to Vienna. I really believe that hearing Joachim and Rubinstein play was a great event in my life and did more for me than five years of study!’ At ten he won the Conservatory gold medal, was given a three-quartersize Amati by friends and transferred to the Paris Conservatoire (studying violin with Joseph Massart, composition with Leo Delibes). He met César Franck, played in the Pasdeloup Orchestra and in 1887 took a first prize in violin. In 1888-89 he toured America with the Polish pianist Moriz Rosenthal, making his début in Boston on 9 November 1888 with the Mendelssohn Concerto conducted by Walter Damrosch. He spent two years back in Vienna, broadening his education, considered following his father’s profession and did two years’ medical training, then his military service. In 1896 he opted for music and, turned down for the Court Opera Orchestra by the concertmaster Arnold Rosé, began his career as a virtuoso. He toured Russia, met Glazunov, found a wealthy sponsor and gradually advanced himself, getting to know Joachim, Wolf and Schoenberg as well as Brahms. In January 1898 he made his concerto début in Vienna with Bruch’s G minor Concerto, conducted by Hans Richter, and in March 1899 had an even greater triumph when he played Bruch’s Concerto in D minor, Vieuxtemps’s F sharp minor and Paganini’s ‘Non più mesta’ Variations for his Berlin Philharmonic début under Josef Rebicek. In November 1899 he was back in Berlin for the Mendelssohn E minor under Arthur Nikisch. In 1900 he toured America and in 1902 appeared in London, playing the Beethoven Concerto at the first of Richter’s concerts, on 12 May, and the Bruch G minor at the third. That year he married Harriet Lies. In 1904 he received the Philharmonic Society gold medal, in 1910 he toured Russia again and by World War I, in which he was wounded and discharged with the rank of captain, he was known worldwide. He moved to the United States, made records with John McCormack, gave generously to help war orphans and refugees and played charity concerts. When America entered the war, he was sidelined as an enemy alien, writing his operetta Apple Blossoms and his String Quartet. From 1924 Kreisler made his home in Berlin but spent much time in America and recorded with Sergey Rachmaninov. In 1932 his second operetta, Sissy, was given its successful première in Vienna. With the rise of Hitler in 1933, he boycotted Germany because of the treatment of his fellow Jews. When he admitted in 1935 that many ‘Baroque’ pieces in his repertoire were his own compositions, he caused an international scandal—the English critic Ernest Newman was particularly miffed. Among Kreisler’s colleagues, Mischa Elman was upset, but Albert Spalding, George Enescu, Adolf Busch, Jascha Heifetz and Efrem Zimbalist took the controversy in their stride. After the Anschluss of Austria by Hitler in 1938, Kreisler became a French citizen, then emigrated permanently to the United States, taking citizenship in 1943. His career was more or less ended in 1941, when he was hit by a van while absent-mindedly crossing a New York street. He was in a coma for four weeks; and although he recovered and did not stop playing in public until 1950, he was never the same again. He died in New York on 29 January 1962.
Sadly Kreisler’s first London session produced not one published side from the dozen matrices recorded, two versions each of six pieces. Even more unfortunately, the aborted sides included his sole attempts at his ‘Pugnani’ Minuet. On 6 November he and Squire tried again and achieved a phenomenal work rate, with fifteen 12-inch and four 10-inch matrices completed in a day. It surely helped that the two men knew each other well and that the legendary Fred Gaisberg—an avid Kreisler fan—was in overall charge, even acting as balance engineer for the 10-inch sides. Most titles were recorded just once, but five pieces were repeated—the missing 12-inch matrices, AC5691F and AC5695F, were ‘first takes’ of La précieuse and the Allegretto, while the missing 10-inch, AB14415E, was a ‘first take’ of La chasse. The ‘first takes’ of the Scherzo and Aubade were issued in America and the ‘second takes’ in the United Kingdom. As Kreisler never played anything the same way twice, it is always nice to have two versions—the Scherzo is played a little more emphatically in places, for instance. Kreisler half misses the tricky opening of Caprice viennois but fortunately he was not fussy enough to withhold the recording, as it is one of his tenderest readings of the piece—he gets the opening perfectly right on its second appearance. The sound quality of these London records is amazing, a tribute to the engineers’ skill.
The two New York sessions of a year later featured the same accompanist as in 1910, George Falkenstein, a well-known local musician who was a Victor house pianist and worked with the American violinist Maud Powell. Kreisler was in town to play the Beethoven, Brahms and Bruch concertos with the visiting Boston Symphony under Karl Muck; but he also found time to make the records, attend a dinner in honour of Eugène Ysaÿe and take part in two events at the Waldorf- Astoria, a ‘musical morning’ and (on the 20th, between the Victor sessions) a charity recital. It is interesting to compare his London and New York recital programmes: whereas in May 1911 the Londoners had been treated to a solo Bach sonata, the rich socialites of New York, headed by the Vanderbilts, were let down lightly with a Handel sonata and a string of Kreisler arrangements and compositions, some of the latter passed off as Baroque pieces. It is frustrating to think that his superb ‘Pugnani’ Praeludium and Allegro was in his recital repertoire at this time and yet he never recorded it.
More amusing is to read a long, serious Manchester Guardian review of a 1910 Kreisler recital in Southport and find the critic praising the violinist’s ‘devotion to the music of the eighteenth century’—most of it, we now know, by Kreisler himself. Of the three pieces with Kreisler’s name actually attached to them, this scribe felt that ‘one must speak in terms of more measured praise’! Whereas at his 1910 New York sessions he had set down only one of his ‘Baroque’ creations, the ‘Tartini’ Variations, in his 1911 London and 1912 New York sessions Kreisler added a further seven. The ‘Boccherini’ Allegretto, the ‘Martini’ Andantino, the ‘Couperin’ Aubade and the ‘Cartier’ La chasse, with its hunting-horn imitations and virtuosic articulation, are especially valuable, as Kreisler never returned to them. Other new repertoire for his discography included the Gluck arrangement, Kreisler’s own Schön Rosmarin, one of his delightful Viennese concoctions, and his only recording of Pearl Dea Etta Townsend’s Berceuse. The Bach Prelude made its first appearance since the 1904 Berlin session. The various duplications of repertoire can be explained by the HMV and Victor engineers’ constant striving to improve on the sound quality of popular pieces such as Liebesleid and Liebesfreud. The metal shells of some recordings also deteriorated, as more and more stampers were struck from them, and so the best-selling numbers were regularly updated.
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