Fanfare Magazine Sept/Oct 2014

Jack Liebeck and Katya Apekisheva’s recital of pieces written or transcribed by Fritz Kreisler opens with the one often cited as Kreisler’s best, the Praeludium and Allegro in the Style of [Gaetano] Pugnani. Kreisler himself never recorded it, although Carl Flesch remembered that he took the Allegro no faster than MM=120. Kreisler must have played the work with the marked personality he displayed in pieces he did record; and though others have perhaps surpassed him in sheer technique, his recordings of his own works still sound incomparably haunting. Zino Francescatti endowed the Praeludium and Allegro with a sense of fancy that could seem almost wayward or headstrong; but Kreisler himself admired Francescatti’s playing. After Francescatti, Liebeck sounds tame, though crisp and determined. He seems more yielding in the Syncopation, and perhaps even more so in Schön Rosmarin, investing it with a charm and sensibility that may not be echt Viennese but isn’t bland, either. He brings an aching sense of yearning to Liebesleid and a heady razor-sharpness to Liebesfreud. All the while, he seems to have achieved these insights largely by avoiding a fussy concentration on detail (I’ve noticed that Kreisler’s playing wasn’t self-conscious in that way, either). Polichinelle sounds cockier and more strutting than it sometimes does and might provide an object lesson for students in character sketching. Liebeck’s reading of Tambourin chinois may not be particularly quick, but it’s sharply articulated and buoyant nonetheless. Kreisler’s arrangement of Gluck’s Mélodie (from Orfeo ed Euridice) provides a vehicle for Liebeck’s suavest singing manner; he’s engaging in the Toy Soldiers’ March—some may feel more engaging than the music itself warrants. La Chasse, perhaps inspired by the many pieces so denominated in Jean-Baptiste Cartier’s monumental collection L’Art du violon also may seem to lack character, but it’s a survivor from the early age of genre pieces as filtered through Kreisler’s antiquarian sensibilities—and now, Liebeck’s. Francescatti played Caprice viennois with breathtaking verve, making it almost his own. That that’s no mean feat appears from Eugène Ysaÿe’s almost laughably lugubrious version (although who would laugh at Ysaÿe?) of the slower section. Liebeck’s reading may not exhibit Francescatti’s panache, but it’s hardly lacking in personality (and Apekisheva sounds skittish at the end). The Allegretto in the Style of [Luigi] Boccherini sounds less strongly individual than does Kreisler’s version of Manuel de Falla’s Danse espagnole from La vida breve—a reading by Liebeck that flashes virtuosically and smolders with passionate ardor. Kreisler’s arrangement of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance receives a similarly idiomatic reading from the duo. Liebeck comes out of the corner punching in Kreisler’s Marche miniature viennoise, though he relaxes into geniality in its middle section. The program closes with two of its most virtuosic works. The first of these, Recitativo and Scherzo for solo violin, may capture some of Ysaÿe’s style of playing, but Liebeck doesn’t indulge these gauzier aspects of the piece’s personality. He still sounds stentorian, though, on the G-string of the 1785 Wilhelmj Joannes Baptista Guadagnini.

The second of the concluding virtuoso showstoppers also represents the longest of the works: Kreisler’s arrangement of Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in G Minor, “The Devil’s Trill.” Kreisler in some ways tamed Tartini, for example in the second movement, in which Kreisler’s version takes the trills from the lower, rather than from the flintier upper, note. And the first movement of Tartini’s “original” comes supplied with double-stops. Arthur Grumiaux’s version sounded exceptionally elegant several generations ago, but so does Liebeck’s nowadays, in the smoothness of his style in the first movement and in the boldness of his opening strokes (and the cheerful bouncing of his bow) in the second. Tully Potter writes in the booklet notes about the stamina required in the cadenza, but my experience of playing and teaching the sonata leads me to appreciate the way in which Kreisler achieved an effect in the cadenza so much more hair-raising (and with so much less effort) than that in Tartini’s much more hand-wrenchingly difficult recollection, from a dream, of the Devil’s own trill. That fiction (Tartini easy, Kreisler difficult) could be perpetuated by a version as sulfurous as Liebeck’s.

Some violinists and aficionados of Kreisler’s compositions—and less specialized listeners as well—may feel that Liebeck seems most at home in the arrangements of works by Falla and Dvořák; but he’s generally convincing throughout the program, and so is Apekisheva where the music allows her to be. The release can be warmly recommended as a generally well-played program with several very, very high spots and with overall reverberant and life-like recorded sound. Robert Maxham