Tag Archives: Perlman

Beethoven’s Kreutzer and a Little Something Extra

And now for something entirely un-esoteric, and which I don’t have the library or expertise to offer a comprehensive discourse upon — Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. (For those purposes, consult Norman Lebrecht’s somewhat more extensive but occasionally very differently inclined Slipped Disc Kerutzer.) Both he and I do agree on the bottom line, and that is at least among modern interpretations, no one matches Perlman and Ashkenazy on London/Decca.0FED63EE-0B16-4DC0-8CCB-6E1D1AAB7BE4_1_201_a The sound is front-row center and the performance bristles with energy and vigor throughout, and is subtle and even beautiful at moments of respite (not only in the slow movement); but in total this captures the work as a statement of passion, not a model of composition. What I find unnerving about so many versions of this work that, by Lebrecht’s count, has been recorded more than 100 times, is that too many soloist treat it as just another in the cycle, which to be sure is full of other inspired works and moments of Beethovenian inspiration — but this one stands alone just as the Fifth Symphony is of a different order than the other eight. 

For me, urgency and tempo are a simple and basic part of this, for both the violin and accompanist. Maybe I’m influenced here by a teacher of mine who, in hindsight, put me through a somewhat ridiculously old-school method of measuring my abilities at “musical memory” not as in sight reading or playing by ear, but in terms of recall ability and score memorization: He had the group of us quizzed methodically on our ability to identify a 30 second segment, at random of course, of any of the Haydn symphonies (ALL, yes all, of them); the Beethoven piano and violin sonatas, and any section at all of The Magic Flute. He had us try different methods of recall, one of which was what today we’d call visualization — in the case of the Kreutzer he suggested imagining a horse drawn carriage stuck in the mud with Beethoven inside railing at the driver as an image befitting the first movement. It’s stuck, all these years later, and unless I see that in my mind’s eye the performance fails for me. Perlman passes this test with flying colors, or muddy ones, if you want to extend the imagery.

The other stereo version I find truly compelling in its overall structure as this sense of urgency is Schneiderhan, one of his final records. This was after his Concerto with Jochum had established itself as the sine qua non, which for F6E1A1F8-9903-4837-855E-49A621122623_1_201_amany of us it remains, and here he extends his mastery of Beethoven’s persona and style into the more intimate format. The one interpretative edge he has over Perlman, and it’s slight but it’s there, is that he is able to convey real reflection even in a single phrase or couple of bars, and the transition back to the main melody, in a way that eludes Perlman somewhat more, as well as Ashkenazy. It’s a pity we didn’t get a complete cycle from him we did in the early 1950s, when he partnered with Kempff, although the results there are comparably lackluster. Something must have transformed him as an artist after that Jochum concerto, and it extends into this Kreutzer. There are various European-only reissues, but the violin sound is far richer on the original Alle hersteller pressing.

One has to mention Szeryng or course, and indeed his Living Stereo record with Rubinstein is in this league for me, but still lacks the inspired phasing and drama that both Perlman and Schneiderhan (and their accompanists) have on21074652-F3EE-4A7B-851B-537A4F729F7A_1_201_a display from start to finish. His re-recording with Haebler from 1980 on Philips is decidedly less engaged, though apparently more valued by collectors. The E46C9B8A-4DBA-47D4-813D-BB967114C1D3_1_201_alate analogue sound is superb, as is Haebler’s contribution. Oistrakh had also recorded the cycle with Philips (initially pressed by Mercury) in stereo, a performance which also fetches big bucks from collectors but has always struck me as being dull as dishwater, heresy though it may be to say such a thing. Phoning it in perhaps, if that metaphor works for recording. (The same could be said, in my humble estimation, of Kogan’s single attempt at the work, also Melodiya, issued in the US on MGM for some reason.) My evidence for the harshness of my judgement on the later Oistrakh is comparison to his earlier, scratchy old 1953 Melodiya recording — issued on DDD97A30-44DA-416C-B74C-C36EF037E4F4_1_201_aVanguard in 1957 in a passable pressing, but if one can allow for the sonic limitations the reading itself is more in Perlman and Schneiderhan’s league, with its distinctly more robust and somewhat less refined style in general as was typical of the artist…except when it wasn’t, as was the case for whatever reason in theE3B4D19F-FAE3-4F3A-A322-3E80CE722DE3 stereo cycle, where he and old Oborin just sound bored and playing the notes to get the cash. The Vanguard (“Music Appreciation Records”) record also includes Lecair’s Sonata in D, a short Baroque showpiece that Oistrakh must have like as he recorded it several times,

including a later version for RCA that is available in both stereo and mono; but again neither matches this early old Melodiya. It’s unusually slow for the artist and for the work; by comparison Grumiaux is no less inspired in this little gem which really has nothing at all in common with the

Kreutzer other than containing some of the most infectious, memorable tunes ever put down on paper. The Leclair is a sparkling little gem, while the Kreutzer is a monument, of course. A live recording with Frida Bauer, from the same period:

And the Grumiaux, a truly delectable confection:

A last Kreutzerpick for me is an interesting way to feed off of this comparison, in that the playing of the soloists — Francescatti and Casadesus — is decidedly more Italianate or Gallic (if one wants to be geographical about such CAD89E08-B48A-4138-AF68-BCCAB4222731_1_201_athings). Francescatti’s thinner and more delicate style isn’t necessarily the most natural fit for the piece, especially consider what it means for me and the interpreters I otherwise favor, but he digs deep here and does produce more drama than is customary for him — this is certainly that same person who is a master of Mendelssohn’s concerto, or Casadesus in Ravel, for example — but together they must have set their sights on achieving something very different than their norm, and they did. It took me a while to find a truly clean playing copy, but the mono sound is rich and full, and does the work ample justice. A 1970 live broadcast here, shows the two artists kept the same spirit and personal view of the work over the decades. If anything, time aged its intensity even more for both men than they set down on disc in their youth:


Franck’s Violin Sonata

After a long hiatus, I’m back, at the urging of an old friend (yes, Patrick). I’ve got a couple of pieces up for review, the first of which is Franck’s late Romantic Violin Sonata. It tracks classical form, but is a kind of bridge work with the coming French impressionists. Readings tend to emphasize the past or the future of its timing.

Erica Morini, on American Decca (DL 10038), is a prized soloist among collectors, but her 1961 rendition leaves me somewhat cold. Tempi are predictable and there’s not much emotion here. Little vibrato in the tone — and the limitations are not due to the 100_8560mono sound. Straightforward, straightforward, straightforward. Firkusny as accompanist is, to my ears, uninteresting. One more reason why big-name collectable artists fetch far more than they might deserve on auction sites. The recording is unavailable on CD in the USA, but can be found in a DGG box set from Korea.

Contrast this, about 180 degrees, with the Polish academic virtuoso Kaja Danczowska, who recorded infrequently but was on record with fellow Pole Krysian Zimerman in a 1981 DGG record (2531-330) 100_8561that is simply phenomenal. The richness of tone, technique, and dynamism of storytelling top Morini by far. In my opinion anyway. Oddly enough, the comparison makes Morini sound “academic.” Available on CD from Polydor’s “Originals.”

And for another contrast there is Perlman, in his 1969 Decca/London record with Ashkenazy, far more 100_8562aggressive in accompaniment than any of the others yet, turning the sonata into a duet. Perlman also pushes further, too much so for some, no doubt, beyond Morini’s classical restraint. This is a concerto in chamber form. The sonics are superb, with a deep echo. Melodramatic for some, no doubt, as with the violin technique, digging deep on the opening tones. Also available on CD in the “Originals” series.

A contrast again: David Oistrakh, Russian trained and not anywhere near the romantic tones we hear 100_8563from Perlman. But no less intense. Two versions, the EMI with Yampolski (1954) and Melodiya with Richter (1968, released in the US on EMI). This is disciplined playing, with the emotion held out for the downbeats, not the melodies. Technique governs here, not phrasing. Oistrakh was better cut out for Beethoven and his Kreutzer-wrenching gut-phrases than the emotional subtleties of the Franck. The opening bars of the final movement are as organized as a Russian troop movement, worlds away from how this sounds under Danczowska or Perlman. The music is marshalled. Intense yes, but not free. Available on CD with EMI’s Testament series (import).

100_8564The mono sound is excellent, and doesn’t encumber. Years later with Richter he seems to have opened up (a political metaphor, as with his colleague Rostropovich?) and the range expands. Speeds are slower, and there is more space to breathe. But still the feeling seems lacking. There seems to be a pacing about the room, not the exploration and joy we feel with Danczowska and Ashkenazy — as if there are all things new. In part, Richter’s piano accompaniment is plodding, and the footsteps keep us down, as a guide who is too slow through the historic house. The Melodiya version has been on CD in a number of iterations due to licensing confusion, including a remarkable Vox 2CD set from the ’90s.100_8565

Last  but not least, Jascha Heifetz in a venerable 1937 recording, here on EMI Serphim. The sound is rich and warm. Perhaps overly rhythmic , the interpretation has most in common with Danczowska. It is “sympathetic” in the best sense. Not making emotional statements, but rather provoking questions. The drama of the ’37 sonics goes further than than stereo issues, if you have the opportunity to her it on vinyl. Available on CD as part of the Heifetz Collection.