LEBRECHT LISTENS | How Did The Kreutzer Project Go So Charmlessly Wrong?

By Norman Lebrecht on September 16, 2022

The Knights: The Kreutzer Project
The Knights: The Kreutzer Project

The Knights: The Kreutzer Project (Avie)

★★★☆☆

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Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata was longer and more complex than any concerto of its time. It inspired a novella by Leo Tolstoy and a string quartet by Leos Janacek, both of them pillars of western culture and windows into human psychology. So the idea of replacing the pianist in the violin-piano sonata with a chamber orchestra and playing the 40-minute like a full-blown concerto is not irreverent, irrelevant, nor technically impossible. On paper, it ought to work.

Colin Jacobsen’s attempt with The Knights, a New York soloists’ orchestra, strikes me as honourable in its intention and by no means unmusical. It is coupled on this album with a rather less convincing orchestration of the Janacek sonata and a synthetic new work by the NY-based English composer Anna Clyne, a work that takes its title ‘Shorthand’ from Tolstoy’s famous though meaningless epigram: ‘Music is the shorthand of emotion’. Clyne’s contribution, heavy in the lower strings and rich in Elgarian gesture and a klezmeroid tune from Fiddler on the Roof, is the only track in this set that I really liked.

The Knights’ account of the Kreutzer Sonata is crushed by excessive instrumentation and lacks the requisite sleekness for dressing up a classical chamber piece in a heavy overcoat. A Viennese ensemble might cut a sharper dash in it. The Knights sound edgier in Janacek, though still unconvincing. The whole point of the Janacek quartet is to convey the intimacy of an illicit, unconsummated love affair. No tryst is ever going to be helped by having 20 musicians chiming in.

Least appealing is Colin Jacobsen’s composition ‘Kreutzings’, a synthesis of the album’s corporate parts using fusions of baroque style and Kurtag-like scratchings. The idea behind this program was serious, credible and intelligent. How did it go so charmlessly wrong?

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, subscribe to Slippedisc.com.

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