Kreutzer: Violin Concertos Nos. 17, 18, and 19 (CD review)

Axel Strauss, violin; Andrew Mogrelia, San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra. Naxos 8.570380.

French violinist, teacher, conductor, and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) obviously favored the violin, having written nineteen violin concertos, mainly for himself to play. Not that he didn't compose in other genres, as his thirty-nine operas and forty-two ├ętudes ou caprices for solo violin attest. Beethoven thought so much of Kreutzer as a violin virtuoso he dedicated his Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major to him. But fame is fleeting; today, one hardly hears about poor old Kreutzer, with only a handful of discs devoted to his music. The folks at Naxos, however, appear ready to rectify that situation, with these final three of Kreutzer's violin concertos apparently only the beginning of a complete cycle of the man's violin works. We'll see. It's a start.

All three concertos are fairly brief affairs, with No. 17 in G major (premiered in 1806) a mere seventeen minutes long. It begins with a rather regal introduction, followed almost immediately by an impressive turn from the violin. One can tell from the outset that Kreutzer was going to favor the soloist, the modest ensemble work merely serving as a background, almost as an afterthought, for the violin. Whatever, violinist Axel Strauss handles it fluently, with consummate ease, and the San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra provide sympathetic support. In the second movement we again get a dramatic opening statement from the players, succeeded by what is practically a violin solo, this time of hushed intensity and quite lovely. The Rondo finale has a pleasant rhythmic thrust and brings the piece to a satisfying close.

Concerto No. 18 in E minor begins more energetically than No. 17, and it allows the orchestra a bit more time to itself before the violin's entry. Then, when the violin does appear, it's in a relatively quiet, slightly plaintive mood. Nevertheless, it picks up intensity as it goes along, and Strauss appears to be enjoying himself in the music, playing it with great enthusiasm as well as showmanship. The slow movement speaks with an impassioned tenderness and the finale in a surprisingly impish yet gentle manner, perhaps foreshadowing Paganini's First Violin Concerto a few years later.

The Violin Concerto No. 19 in D minor strikes one as the most mature of the three concertos on the program, with Mozartian overtones and shades of Don Giovanni. It is both ambitious and stately, with some fine solo passages, as we might expect. It is also the best of the three concertos at integrating the violin into the orchestral framework. So, it rewards on several counts. Again, the work utilizes a mellow slow movement and a sprightly closing section, which Strauss and company exploit to good advantage.

There is nothing about these three Kreutzer concertos that jumps out at one and proclaims them as great music. Still, one can hear artistry in them, and when performed as well as they are here they make for entertaining diversions.

The sound, recorded at the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, San Francisco, California, in January and February of 2009, understandably favors the violin, which is front and center, yet without totally dominating the sonic landscape. The instrument sounds robust and clean, the highest string notes not at all abrasive but vibrantly realistic. The orchestra, spread out behind the soloist, only occasionally comes into their own, yet when they do, the effect is splendid--clear, smooth, dynamic, and well balanced. While the audio is not exactly of audiophile quality, it is quite agreeable to the ear and among Naxos's best.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa