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Krylov plays Kreisler

Photos by Joachim Knodt


By C. Wall

Stellar violinist Sergej Krylov’s first visit in almost a decade thrilled the Convent with a programme that gloried in the compositions of Felix Kreisler. The opener, Brahms’ Op. 78 sonata in G major, exemplified the traits we expect of Krylov, who simply walked on with pianist Michail Lifits to pour out the lyricism like a spring drizzle. The nostalgic tone in the first movement gave way to a solemn adagio, notable for Lifits’ dramatic sostenuto, before the players spun out the principal theme to a peaceable though focused resolution.

Where Brahms took his inspiration from Beethoven and the Schumanns, Ravel’s own violin sonata in G major borrowed consciously from jazz and blues. This was evident from the contrast between Lifits’ jaunty opening and the yearning of Krylov’s silky swooning, and the adventurous variations in tempi. The pizzicato of the second movement felt less constrained than the more bluesy piano sections, though the piece was crowned by the breathless allegro, a liquid relay between Lifits and Krylov.

The Austrian-American Felix Kreisler (1875-1962) was a virtuoso performer and composer, whose hypnotic vibrato, sensual slides and innovative timing changed audience expectations of how the violin should sound. Back in 2000, Krylov won the four-yearly violin competition named after Kreisler, but he never seems to have recorded any of the original works Kreisler liked playing as encores, which he mischievously attributed to long-dead composers. “Caprice Viennois” was Kreisler’s favourite tribute to the city of his birth, featuring a slow waltz of Habsburg vintage, whose archaisms even Krylov couldn’t play around. “La Précieuse” was sweet but articulate. “Rondino on a theme by Beethoven” showed a remarkable ability by Krylov and Liftis to communicate starts and stops, with a vibrato that owed little to Beethoven. “Londonderry Air” was phrased exquisitely, more sentimental than the Irish folk tune, despite the pianist’s expansive line. “La Gitana” again used dazzling technique to evoke a vernacular sound, a little too refined for my taste.

“Poupée Valsante” had the buoyant energy of a childish dance, though no less challenging for its adult performers. The three Viennese dances, “Liebesfreud”, “Liebesleid” and “Schön Rosmarin” were played with effortless elegance, waltzes that seemed to bypass any influence from the Strauss dynasty. “Tambourin Chinois” was manically jaunty, with a frightening mobility. With encore pieces having made up half the recital, the real encore would have to be something exceptional, and we were not disappointed. The “Praeludium and Allegro” may have been twice as long as the other Kreisler originals we heard, but held the Philharmonic Society audience by compressing volumes of meaning into every gorgeous note.

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