Tall Poppies


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 TP (1-901)


Café Fiddle

Ben Breen - violin
Milton Kaye - piano

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

Following the success of Ben Breen’s first CD for Tall Poppies (Brahms Sonatas, TP172), he has teamed up again with veteran pianist Milton Kaye, for their second recording together. Sadly Milton Kaye has now passed away, so this CD is the last in his long legacy of contributions to the recording industry.

The music presented here is a selection of the salon music popular in the early 20th century. This music serves to present the personality and virtuosity of the performers, and each piece was often used as an encore after a strenuous recital. The works fitted well on the early twelve-inch 78 rpm discs, and these were often played on the radio. It is through these pieces that the musicians often gained a huge and devoted following.

As Milton Kaye has so often accompanied legendary violinists, such as Jascha Heifetz and Oscar Shumsky, that this music is in his blood. Australian violinist Ben Breen, a somewhat younger musician, has taken this style of music-making and made it his own. For this recording he has borrowed a gorgeous 1715 Guarneri violin which contributes significantly to the warmth of tone. His energy and virtuosity are partnered by Kaye’s understanding and experience.

Falla (arr. Kreisler) Dance No. 1 from La vida breve
Elgar Salut d’amour, op 12
Debussy (arr. Heifetz) Beau Soir
Paradies (arr. Dushkin) Sicilienne
Kreisler Liebesleid
Moszkowski (arr. Sarasate) Guitarre, op 45 no 2
Kreisler Rondino on a Theme by Beethoven
Albéniz (arr. Kreisler) Tango in D, op 165 no 2 (from España, 6 Feuilles d’album)
Kreisler Schön Rosmarin
Rachmaninoff (arr. Michael Press (1872-1938)) Vocalise, op 34 no 14
Kreisler Gypsy Caprice
Caprice Viennois
Sarasate (1844-1908) Zapateado, op 23 no 2
Gershwin (1898-1937) (arr. Heifetz) “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy and Bess


Recorded in 2006 shortly before Milton Kaye's death at the ripe old age of 97 - not that you'd know it from the golden-toned, youthfully responsive playing on this disc - this wide-ranging recital features some of the most popular violin encores ever written. Australian Ben Breen possesses a relatively small-scale, sweet sound in comparison with the opulent luxuriousness of Izhak Perlman, who made these encore sweetmeats very much his own in the 1970s and 80s. However, this imparts a gentle, whimsical quality to the music which Perlman's overwhelming charisma tends to underplay.

In the more exuberant numbers - most notably Falla's Lo vido breve dance, Sarasate's Zapateado and Kreisler's Caprice viennoise, the relative lack of adrenal flow tends to rob the music of visceral excitement. Yet whenever charm and cantabile elegance are a priority, such as, for example, in Kreisler’s Rondino on a Theme by Beethoven or the Paradies Sicilienne - Breen comes into his own, subtly shading each phrase with beguiling sensitivity. The purity of tone he sustains in the Rachmaninoff Vocalise and Kreisler’s Liebeslied is exceptional, and he swings Gershwin's It Ain’t Necessarily So with engaging ‘cool’.. The recording might have benefited from a shade more bloom to the sound.
Julian Haylock
The Strad November 2009

Sometimes you just want to listen to something light but, you know, sophisticated and virtuosic, tuneful and uplifting and...fun. Which is exactly what these works--usually referred to as "showpieces"--for violin and piano are. Eight of the 15 selections on this program are either composed or arranged by Fritz Kreisler and have been recorded a zillion times by the greats and not-so-greats and by all manner of very respectable artists in between. The same is true for the Heifetz arrangement of Debussy's "Beau soir", Elgar's "Salut d'amour", Sarasate's Zapateado, and the same composer's arrangement of Moszkowski's Guitarre.

Australian violinist Benjamin Breen is among the finer interpreters of these challenging recital mainstays, whose technique, while not absolutely flawless, is commanding and solid, his energy palpable, his involvement in the spirit of the music infectious, even if his tone--he plays a 1712 Guarneri--is uniformly bright and "edgy" and forward, and even though his range of expression lacks the more varied and characterful nuance of Kreisler's own renditions, or those of my favorite modern interpreter of this repertoire, the Canadian James Ehnes. Nevertheless, these are performances that will hold up to many repeated hearings, whose fundamental attention to detail and quality musicianship deserve an enthusiastic recommendation.

Breen's accompanist, the legendary Milton Kaye (who performed the U.S. premiere of Shostakovich's First piano concerto and who served as Heifetz's accompanist in the 1940s), demands special mention. This turned out to be his last recording--and if all the dates mentioned in the disc notes are correct, this means Kaye was 97 when this recording was made! The engineering places the instruments--particularly the violin--up close, and this actually isn't a bad thing. At a certain volume level I was able to experience the violin at the center, between the speakers, its presence vibrant and as close to literal as you get on a recording. As mentioned, the brightness and grittiness may not appeal to all listeners, but to me (as a violinist) this aspect only made the experience of Breen's playing more affecting and natural. Strongly recommended.
David Vernier 31.7.09

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 TP (1-901)



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