“Openness”, Gidon Kremer once said, is his life’s guiding principle, “openness towards everything new“. The great violinist was speaking not only of contemporary composition for which he has tirelessly proselytized, but also of a willingness to explore unfamiliar settings and new contexts for well-known works. Reevaluating standard repertoire has been one of the themes of his work with Kremerata Baltica, the ensemble of gifted young musicians he founded in 1997. The ensemble’s interpretative skills are well-displayed in this recording of Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in G major in the arrangement for string orchestra by Victor Kissine. Recorded at the church at Lockenhaus, where Kremer has directed his annual chamber music festival since 1981, the spatial dimension of the sound seems like an aural analogy to the violinist’s credo of openness.
Of course open-mindedness does not rule out fidelity: for many years Kremer has shown a special affinity for Schubert. Few other contemporary violinists have paid such close attention to the work of the Viennese master. Alongside the central violin works, Kremer has previously recorded (for Deutsche Grammophon) the three Sonatinas and a host of smaller pieces in exemplary interpretations, drawn to the fragile beauty of Schubert’s music as well as to its frequent fractures and ruptures. Kremer’s fine-nerved musicianship addresses both aspects, while the immense technical challenges appeal to the virtuoso in him. He has also returned frequently to Schubert’s chamber music, in the case of the quartet literature working intensively on Schubert’s final contribution to this genre, the 1826 G major String Quartet.
In bringing Kissine’s orchestration of this work into the repertoire of Kremerata Baltica, Kremer combined a quasi didactical aspect – the intention to introduce the players to profound compositions – with a personal wish to illumine these works in new ways by interpreting them with young partners. In the course of close collaboration with Kremer, Kissine’s orchestration of Schubert’s G major quartet met with vital modifications and refinements. The correspondence between interpreter and arranger, reproduced in part in the CD booklet, indicates how scrupulously they have endeavoured to meet the spirit of Schubert’s score.
Victor Kissine, born in St Petersburg in 1953 and a Belgian resident since 1990, has created an extensive compositional œuvre that covers a wide range of genres and instrumentation. His orchestration of Schubert addresses the evident orchestral qualities of this piece, but furthermore creates a precisely graded spectrum, from intimate solo quartet to voluminous tutti – a perfect example can be heard right at the beginning of the first movement. Every pizzicato of the contrabass, every voicing of a chord, but mostly the extremely differentiated orchestral forces between solo und tutti are meticulously embedded in the formal context.
Schubert’s last quartet – the work of a 29-year-old – is, alongside Beethoven’s contemporaneous quartet in B flat major opus 130, one of the most comprehensive quartets of the era. The technical skills that this score requires are also extreme. A characteristic of this opus 161 is the alternation between major and minor that is inscribed already in the opening bars. Unlike the “Rosamunde” Quartet and “Death and the Maiden”, the great G major quartet makes no allusions to Schubert’s Lieder, which may in part account for its comparative neglect. The quartet was not premiered until 1850, by the Hellmesberger Quartett. While “Der Tod und das Mädchen” was orchestrated by Gustav Mahler, and frequently performed since then, the quartet in G major had not been previously orchestrated.
Gidon Kremer, born 1947 in Riga, Latvia, studied with Pjotr Bondarenko and David Oistrach and won several important competitions. In 1980 he emigrated to the West, founding his Chamber Music Festival at Lockenhaus, Austria in 1981. His connection with ECM dates from the earliest New Series releases. On “Tabula Rasa” featuring works by Arvo Pärt, the very first issue in 1984, he played “Fratres” accompanied by Keith Jarrett. A documentation of the first years of the Lockenhaus Festival on four CDs, including works by Shostakovich, Schulhoff, Stravinsky and others followed. In 1998 Kremer recorded Giya Kancheli’s Lament for ECM. 2005 saw the release of Kancheli’s “In l’istesso tempo”, on which the Kremerata Baltica gave its ECM debut. The present CD marks the beginning of a closer cooperation between Gidon Kremer and the Munich-based label. In October Kremer’s new recording of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo will be released.
The Kremerata Baltica was founded by Gidon Kremer in 1997. Comprised of some 30 young musicians from the Baltic republics, it quickly won an outstanding international reputation. In 2002 the ensemble was awarded a Grammy in the category “Best small ensemble performance” for their record “After Mozart” (Nonesuch). Kremerata is a regular guest at major concert halls and important festivals all over the world. It gives more than 60 concerts a year; most of them conducted by artistic director-violinist Kremer. Apart from the standard chamber orchestra repertoire, contemporary music from Eastern Europe provides the main focus. Composers including Pärt, Kancheli, Vasks, Desyatnikov and Raskatov have written pieces on commission for the Kremerata.
The press on Kremerata Baltica:
“Gidon Kremer, the great Latvian violinist, and the brilliant chamber orchestra he has drawn from his own and neighbouring republics, performed with flair, intensity, precision and delicacy.” The Independent
“Kremer and his new string orchestra, made up of extraordinary players from the Baltic States are special. They animate everything their bows touch.” Los Angeles Times
“Kremerata Baltica is a chamber orchestra of rare refinement. They communicate with the intensity of a chamber ensemble. Their string sound is homogenous, full of colour, warm.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung
CD package includes German-English 32-page booklet with liner notes by Gidon Kremer and an exchange of letters between Kremer and Victor Kissine.