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LEBRECHT LISTENS | Gidon Kremer’s Most Personal Release Is Austere, Uplifting

By Norman Lebrecht on February 9, 2024

Gidon Kremer at Kammermusikfest Lockenhaus 2008 (Photo: Guus Krol/CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)
Gidon Kremer at Kammermusikfest Lockenhaus 2008 (Photo: Guus Krol/CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

Gidon Kremer: Songs of Fate (ECM)


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In half a century of making records, this is Kremer’s most personal release. The son of a Latvian Jew who lost his first family to the Nazis and subsequently remarried a German-Swede, Gidon Kremer often asks himself: who am I? In Riga, he grew up with Soviet anti-semitism and the suppression of Baltic national identities. In Moscow he studied with David Oistrakh, winning first prize at the 1970 Tchaikovsky Competition. A decade later he settled in Germany, then France. He still lives with a suitcase close at hand, travelling the world with his Kremerata Baltica.

This album brings together composers from Baltic states with the Soviet-Polish-Jewish Mieczyslaw Weinberg, who is Kremer’s pet project. The opening track ‘This too shall pass’ says it all in the title. Composed by the Lithuanian Raminta Šerkšnytė for violin, vibraphone and string orchestra, it evokes a wasteland littered with wisps of melody.

Four works by Giedrius Kuprevičius include two settings of the Kaddish, the Jewish memorial prayer, one for violin, the other luminously for soprano and orchestra. The Latvian Jēkabs Jančevskis contributes a tenebrous ‘Lignum’ for strings and esoteric instruments. Weinberg is represented by, among other tracks, a heart-rending 1948 Nocturne for violin and string orchestra and a set of Yiddish ballads. More than any Holocaust museum, this is a living salute to destroyed cultures.

Kremer’s commitment to playing the violin at an age, 76, when most colleagues have long turned to conducting shows how closely he regards the instrument as his personal voice. Down the decades, his tone has mellowed from Moscow-tooled precisionism to a round, all-embracing warmth. This austere and uplifting record is imbued with humanity and idealism. I don’t think I ever recommend a new record as essential. This one is.

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