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Kreisleriana

Walking out of Maxim Vengerov's recent recital at Avery Fisher Hall, I thought of the intermission more as a remission. At a bar in Penn Station a few minutes later, where I heard some Junior Wells on the sound system, the playing (if not the music) was better than anything that the violinist had given. Apparently, for all of his posturing, Maxim just could not get the lead out of his Vengerov. Fritz Kreisler came to mind, as to many he often does. There are quite a few people around who still remember him in performance over 50 years ago, and many more who know him from recordings made as long ago as 1904.

For people like those and for others, I hope. Amy Biancolli's new biography is just the thing. Her rethinking of Kreisler's career is the first extended treatment it has received since Louis Lochner's Fritz Kreisler of 1950. Biancolli has not written a straightforward biography like Lochner's, but rather an analytical engagement with a man, a personality, and a style. She was right to do so, and right again to see Kreisler as a "problem" to us, musically as well as culturally.

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) is a challenge because he represents the old world from before World War I, and even before the turn of the century. His upbringing in Vienna marked him for life, and something of Viennese grace always stamped his playing as well as him. As a child, Kreisler knew Herr Doktor Freud,...

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