Vilde Frang: Homage = RIES: La capricciosa; SCHUMANN: Widmung; WIENIAWSKI: “Obertass” Mazurka; Caprice in E-flat; GLUCK: Melodie; SCHUBERT: Ballet Music from “Rosamunde”; POLDOWSKI: Tango; DEBUSSY: La  plus que lente; SCRIABIN: Etude, Op. 8, No. 10; KREISLER: Gypsy Caprice; Rondino; DVORAK: Slavonic Dance in e minor; PROKOFIEV: Masks; ALBENIZ: Sevilla; PONCE: Estrellita; BAZZINI: Calabrese, OP. 34, No. 6; MENDELSSOHN: Song without Words, Op. 62, No. 1 – Vilde Frang, violin/ Jose Gallardo, piano – Warner Classics 0190295605326, 54:51 ****:

Vilde Frang “indulges” her talents by paying homage to composers in transcriptions by masters of her instrument.

Norwegian Violin virtuoso Vilde Frang (b. 1986) pays literal homage to the pedagogues and luminaries of the past with seventeen pieces and arrangements (rec. March 2017) made for her chosen instrument by the likes of Auer, Kreisler, Heifetz, and Szigeti. Frang performs on an 1854 Jean-Baptiste Vauillaume, opening her suave program with an “undoctored” original piece from 1925, La capricciosa, by Franz Ries (1846-1932), a work that slides and cavorts in flirtatious gestures, then breaks into a spiffy version of a Brahms Hungarian Dance.  The fine lied from Schumann’s Op. 25 Myrthen, “Widmung” makes as ravishing a violin transcription (by Leopold Auer) as it does a piano piece, which both Henry Daniell and Katharine Hepburn once demonstrated in the 1947 M-G-M film Song of Love.

The great Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880) has two nods from Vilde Frang, the first a stomping Obertass, Op. 19, No.1 (c. 1860), with its efforts to outdo a Paganini etude—here, a la mazurka —in changes of register and bowing, open fifths and double-stops. Jabbing half-steps define the Caprice in E-flat (Alla saltarella) in a “sweetened” version by the ultimate Viennese maestro, Fritz Kreisler.  Wieniawski’s youngest daughter, Irina (1879-1932), wrote music under the pseudonym Poldowski, and her Tango (1923) has a slashing, brazen character that imitates fervent guitars, likely fit for Rudolf Valentino.  Among the most famous of lyrical transcriptions, the tender Melodie from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (trans. Kreisler) bears a tragic, chaste lilt that author William Styron exploited in love-death for Sophie’s Choice. Franz Schubert’s softly militant Ballet Music No. 2 from Rosamunde (trans. Kreisler) resounds in double-stops and some judicious slides.

The one French contribution, the “slower-than-slow” Valse of Claude Debussy (trans. Leon Roques), has a seductive, angular beauty, lingering on the last note of the phrase to soar into momentary passion. The “intellectual” violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973) transcribed Alexander Scriabin’s Etude in D-flat, Op. 8, No. 10 (c. 1892), imparting its urgent staccati and curvaceous slides with a hefty, rasping energy. Two “original” Kreisler pieces ensue, the Rondino on a Theme of Beethoven, which conveys an old-world charm Zweig captures in his brilliant The World of Yesterday. Kreisler’s Gypsy Caprice enjoys a brash and sassy confidence—why not? it’s the longest work in performance—flirtatious in a way to remind us of how much we miss the likes of Ouspenskaya, Lugosi, and Mischa Auer. We can smell the cigarettes and taste the kabobs.

Vilde Frang, by Marco Borggreve
Warner Classics

The next set of five pieces in transcription divide themselves between Kreisler and his arch-rival, Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), the latter of whom virtually defined violin mastery. Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in e minor, Op. 46, No. 2 carries a noble tesknota (bitter-sweet nostalgia) all its own, and I’ve loved it ever since I heard my early records by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and Vaclav Talich. Mendelssohn receives the Kreisler touch in his Song without Words, Op. 62, No. 1, an air-piece, given the name “May Breezes.” Pianist Jose Gallardo convinces us that water might be its true element. If one Kreisler transcription seems obvious in its absence, it’s the Falla Spanish Dance from the La Vida breve.  The Heifetz flair for liquid transitions of bowing and articulation begins with Prokofiev’s Masks from his ballet Romeo and Juliet.   The irreverent canters by Romeo and Mercutio first dazzled me when Dimitri Mitropoulos led the dance with the New York Philharmonic. Heifetz demands his own guitars for the Albeniz Sevilla from Suite Espanola. The middle section proffers the urgent love song—and high flute tone—that Frang executes with requisite, sultry ardor. Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita gives us a serenade from Old Mexico that might have accompanied the visual images of Warner Baxter or Kent Taylor and Loretta Young in Ramona.

Frang closes with one more original, by Antonio Bazzini (1818-1897), his etude Calabrese (1859), which sounds like his answer to Wieniawski’s Scherzo-Tarantelle.  Collectors well recall that Bazzini’s wild La Ronde des Lutins, Op. 25 as performed by Heifetz likely defined modern virtuoso playing for two generations of music lovers. This “new” piece carries its own savage luster, extravagant and mesmerizing, at once.

—Gary Lemco