I loved every damned note of it then, and I love it still

I loved every damned note of it then, and I love it still


norman lebrecht

June 18, 2021

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

In the early 1980s, the phenomenal Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer recorded for Philips an account of the Beethoven concerto that was almost universally reviled. It contained two cadenzas written at the soloist’s request by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, a self-styled polystylist who built some of his works from fragments of many others.

Each of the cadenzas contained snippets of every major violin concerto from Bach to Berg, and the western music establishment recoiled as if it had been struck by a falling sputnik. The record was harshly reviewed and withdrawn by the label, never to be physically reissued …

Read on here.

And here.

En francais ici.

In Czech here.

In Spanish here.

In The Critic.




  • John Borstlap says:

    The idea was ridiculous and is still ridiculous, because such ridiculous things are universally ridiculous.

    There is something like the integrity of the work of art.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    ‘The record was harshly reviewed and withdrawn by the label, never to be physically reissued…’

    I’m not sure about the vinyl release(s) of the Kremer recording, but on CD there were at least 2 EMI releases (one of them including ‘filling material’), and more recently it was re-issued on Newton Classics. The cadenza of the first movement was also recorded by Ruggiero Ricci.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Sorry, Philips, not EMI.

      I was quite non-interested in owning a recording until I listened to the Ricci recording, where you can listen to the cadenza alone. Then I got the Newton Classics re-issue, and checked the alternatives.

      The Schnittke cadenza sounds great when listened to isolated, it should be re-named as ‘Cadenza Étude’ or something so, unfortunately the composer can no longer make such a decision.

  • Christopher Culver says:

    “The record was harshly reviewed and withdrawn by the label, never to be physically reissued”

    This is not the case. After label mergers, Kremer’s recording on Philips got a reissue on Deutsche Grammophon in its budget reissue series Eloquence.

  • astroman says:

    I heard Kremer play the Beethoven/Schnittke in D.C., back in the 80s. He was electrifying. Thanks for mentioning this album.

  • J Barcelo says:

    I hated that record then and yet of the small number of LPs I kept, that was one.

  • MacroV says:

    I have the Kremer recording. I haven’t listened to it in a long time since it’s an LP and I don’t have a functioning turntable. But the one review I recall reading was in Stereo Review and that critic quite liked it, IIRC. I recall thinking it interesting though I confess that no cadenza feels as natural to the piece as Kreisler’s.

    But this business about Philips withdrawing it seems a bit overdramatic.
    It probably didn’t sell particularly well so it went the way of most recordings; put in the cut-out bin like so many others (I lived on those bins as a student).
    Good that someone else is trotting it out now. And it makes sense if paired with another Schnittke work.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Somehow I do not recall quite the same degree of universal dislike/revilement that N.L. describes but it was controversial to be sure, and I always assumed the stir helped sell records. Would Philips actually withdraw a recording by an important artist based on critical reactions to a cadenza? Hmm. I bought it and enjoyed playing it for others, and there were many things Kremer did with the solo part that were interesting and unusual and worth careful attention. The Busoni cadenza for the Beethoven Concerto does not quote other music but it goes pretty far afield; Szigeti recorded in in his last and somewhat feeble stereo recording. The Beethoven Concerto cadenzas I did NOT like as a reviewer were the improvisational efforts of Nigel Kennedy, an admirable violinist but often wrongheaded artist (in my personal opinion of course – it isn’t like these things are verifiable facts). To me it sounded like distracted noodling. But a colleague of mine on the Fanfare staff liked them very much and that’s what makes a horse race. It is also why Fanfare editor Joel Flegler would often assign an important or interesting release to TWO reviewers and they’d be printed close together.

    And now we have such things as Gilles Apap’s cadenza for Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. I could never play it because I am not good at whistling and playing the violin at the same time.

  • Completely agree with you about the Kremer (which actually was reissued on the short-lived Newton Classics). And no label has done more for Schnittke than Bis – I’ll be gicing it a listen ASAP.

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    A superb, compelling cadenza, encouraging the listener to confront the Beethoven rather than merely to sit back and let it wash over him/her without consequence. Hearing it played by Rozhdestvensky son-and-father some years ago was a revelation. (And the Kremer recording *was* released on CD, though perhaps only in Japan: Decca 4547652, with the Berg concerto. My copy has a 2010 publication date. Best to avoid “never” [or “always”], unless you think Asia doesn’t count.)

    • John Borstlap says:

      This is so wrong, and revealing a total lack of understanding what music is.

      “….. merely to sit back and let it wash over him/her without consequence.” This is supposed to be listening to a normal cadenza of this superb work?

      I think the formidable Joachim cadenza is the best, for he uses the themes of the movement consistently and musically, but presents them in a virtuoso way. A classical work like this is written as an organic unity, blending contrast and variety in an harmonious whole. A cadenza has to show the soloist’s prowess but within the context of the piece. Joachim perfectly understood this, as his own temperament was close to the classics. He was also a composer of worth. And his cadenza for the Brahms concerto became part of the published score, and rightly so.

      It is a fruit of modernism to think that works of art from the past should be violated to show the freedom of the present. It is very low-level, juvenile envy, born from frustration.

      • Conductor from La vecchia scuola says:

        we could all write about the misunderstanding -or misrepresentation- of what the concept ‘style’ means, and perhaps could we also rememember what ‘polistyle’ meant for Mr Schnittke, a great composer by all means.

        I have seldom agreed with written statements posted by Mr Borstlap, and do not know his music, but in this particular case I cannot agree more on his words, a total misunderstanding of what music is:

        the simple application of a personal aesthetic to one of the greatest masters of our art does not help the piece, nor is the new cadenza able to add to the grandeur of the masterwork, one of the monuments of our culture.

        Why should one apply a personal tool/technique to a great piece, then why should one write a cadenza, without accepting that the music is far superior than my own chosen technique?

        this sole *ethical* question, applied to a great piece of art must be urgently placed.

        I would consider arguing on this specific issue: Beethoven’s style as supposed to anybody else’s, the combination of both, the uncalled/disruptive addition of a personal artistic strategy, the consequent new and alien cognition of the new element -who needs it?-, the unwanted need to install a new language ‘inside’ the old piece, the unnecessary incumbency situation given at a performance of Beethoven, the unjustifiable pertinence of a new language ‘inside’ an older piece.

        Do we talk about Beethoven? have anybody the right to put his/her foot (excuse my French) on such a great piece?

        I am sorry, but I deem it as real insult to the Master.

  • Morgan says:

    The Giocondo with a mustache.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    I have never understood the disdain heaped upon the Schnittke cadenzas. It’s all a matter of taste, like those Britten wrote for Richter to play in K482. Incidentally, there is a very fine new recording of the Beethoven with Vadim Gluzman with those Schnittke cadenzas (amazing timpani too).

  • Peter says:

    Philips did reissue the Kremer/Marriner performance with the Schnittke cadenza (who is even credited on the cover) on CD. I’m glad to have it in my collection, and look forward to adding Vadim’s recording.

  • Robert Roy says:

    Of course the Schnittke cadenza has been recorded recently by Vadim Gluzman with the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester under James Gaffigan on the BIS label and pretty good it is too! It’s context is highlighted with it being coupled with Schnittke’s 3rd Violin Concerto.

    It’s interesting to compare it to Kramer’s recording which I’m lucky enough to have on an original Philip’s ‘Blue Face’ cd. IMHO, it sounds more integral on the new recording. All credit to both players for choosing to do something out of the ordinary.

    (It was also recorded by Ricci on his Biddulph recording with the Orchestra del Chianti conducted by Piero Belluci. A brave attempt to provide 15 different cadenzas to Beethoven’s concerto).

  • MSC says:

    I would not want it to be my only recording of the concerto, but it is a good one and I, too, love the cadenzas. It is usually a pleasant surprise to hear something other than Kreisler’s.

  • esfir ross says:

    Norman, don’t call Gidon Kremer a phenomenal violinist. GK’s too overhyped.

  • microview says:

    “The record was harshly reviewed and withdrawn by the label, never to be physically reissued”
    A Decca 2009 CD reissue remains as a download; Presto has its own-label reissue in physical form – Kremer with ASMIF/Marriner rec.1980.

  • BRUCEB says:

    I actually went to Amazon and bought (and listened to) the download. I’d heard about this recording for years and — well, I never hunted it like some crazed lepidopterist in the Amazon, but if I’d ever happened across it I would have snapped it up right away.

    Impressions after one listening:

    1. Kremer plays the piece beautifully.
    2. The cadenzas are… intriguing. From what I’d read here and elsewhere, I was sort of expecting a lot of irrelevant ugly noise, but the references to/ quotes from other concerti are worked into the structure and not just a random “hey look, I know some Vivaldi! And the Brahms! And I know some Shostakovich, too!” slap-together. And he keeps bringing back material from the Beethoven, not letting us forget that these are actually cadenzas for the Beethoven concerto.

    Overall, I like it.