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CD Review

Gidon Kremer's EMI Recordings

EMI 69334
Gidon Kremer, violin
Andréi Gavrilov, piano
* Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
** Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
EMI 69334 Two discs
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Okay, I'll admit from the outset that I would have recommended this disc just for the Brahms. I have been eagerly awaiting this recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto. Listening to it brought back a lot of memories since this was the first recording of the piece that I ever listened to. I can recall a white LP cover with a silhouette of Kremer, light coming from behind his frame as he leans forward holding his violin. While the memory may be off, the recall of the performance and recording is dead on.

I am going to assume that you are familiar with this piece. It is a typical concerto in its format and full of Brahmsian melody. The slow movement is one of the most beautiful in any violin concerto. Unfortunately, the insert notes are of no help in getting a peg to hang your hat on if you are not familiar with the piece. They are a somewhat laconic discussion of the history of the works on the discs.

Maestro von Karajan has enough detractors to make you wonder why he was such a successful conductor who sold more discs than any other. This recording belies the notion that he was not all that good. His collaboration with Gidon Kremer is excellent. For what it is worth, it was von Karajan who "discovered" Kremer. In fact, as I recall the liner notes of the LP, von Karajan referred to Kremer as "the greatest" violinist alive…or something like that. I believe that this recording is arguably one of the finest ever. I would compare it to a very different but equally fascinating recording with David Oistrakh and George Szell (also on EMI….when are we going to get this on CD, Rob?). I am about reduced to gushing when trying to itemize the delicious details and fascinating interplay between orchestra and soloist. I can find no fault, anywhere.

What, then, about the couplings? Keep it in perspective that I would recommend this two-disc set regardless of couplings. That said, the Sibelius is very good, though I do not think as highly of it as the Brahms. However, a Gramophone critic wrote (as is reproduced on the outside back cover), "This recording of the Sibelius concerto is a vibrantly extrovert reading, played with easy virtuosity by Kremer." So, there you go. I do not care for the Schumann at all, but that is largely because I do not like the piece. The piece is typical Schumann, full of romantic music, often with heart-on-the-sleeve. If you like the piece you will probably warm to this. If you would like to explore it, this is an economical way to do so.

I had not previously heard the other pieces on this disc, so may not be the best reference for comparative analysis. I wrestled some with trying to describe the Weber. The consistent experience for me was to compare him with Beethoven (a somewhat contemporary: Weber was 16 years younger but died the year before Beethoven). Weber is good, but no Beethoven nor anywhere close to Schubert. If you do not share this opinion you will probably respond favorably to this performance. Here, as throughout the recital, Gavrilov plays with a limpid style that is enchanting. I loved the Hindemith. The first movement opens jauntily and brings to mind Brahms. In fact, throughout this two movement piece Brahms continually came to mind. Brahms' Intermezzi for piano comes to mind in the first movement. In the second it is Brahms' Rhapsody in G minor, for piano, is what most often rings in my ear. Now, the continual reference to piano works is not an error. If there is any problem here, and I do not have comparisons for reference, it is the fact that the piano seems to dominate the proceedings. Since I have already mentioned that Gavrilov's contributions are superb this may not be anything wrong at all. One thing I should mention, if this is Brahms, it is Brahms à la Picasso. Don't ask me what that means, but Picasso paintings came to mind as I listened. The Schnittke? Well, I didn't like it. I tried three times. By trying I mean I listened to the opening 20 seconds the first time. The next two I made it to 60+ seconds. It is dissonant. It opens with a piano chord being hit, followed by silence before it is answered with the violin hitting a similar, dissonant chord. I am not going to claim I am avant garde but neither am I a reactionary. I can appreciate Ives and Martinů, but not this. Is it good? I don't know, but I know I was not willing to listen to what might have been another 19 minutes of the same stuff.

[After writing the above, I did manage 8 minutes of it. It does not seem to have any coherence to me. I am not saying it is bad, only that I do not care for it.]

Now, don't let my comments turn you off this CD set. As I said from the opening, the set is worth it just to have the Brahms Violin Concerto with Kremer and von Karajan. The Sibelius is at least very good. The Schumann and Weber just don't get it for me. The Hindemith, however, was fascinating. If they had just appended this to the violin concerto and marketed it as a single budget disc you'd have a wonderful time at low cost. This is what we call a counter-factual conditional, so ignore it and get this set. Kremer is a warm and wonderful violinist no matter what he plays.

Copyright © 1995, Robert Stumpf II

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