Gidon Kremer has been the dominant European violinist for so long that one may take for granted his large output extending over four decades. This is an EMI two-fer bursting with his huge talent. Three works will immediately attract attention: the concertos by Brahms, Sibelius, and Schumann. The Brahms with Karajan was his first recording of the work; there's a more romantically swelling account with Bernstein on DG. I like that one better, but we are comparing greatness with greatness. DG's recording wasn't the best in terms of sound, and hear EMI makes the Berlin Phil. sound gorgeous. Karajan glosses over things a bit in the accompaniment, but Kremer's playing is soaring and searching while remaining firmly on the modern side of the romantic divide.
Likewise in the Sibelius, a work he recorded only once. Other violinists tend to romanticize a work alreayd over-infused with gestures borrowed from Tchaikovsky, but Kremer plays with great integrity and imaginaiton, thinking every bar afresh. Muti's accompaniment is symphonic and dramatic, which makes just the right contrast to the soloist's haunting solitude in the far North.
The Schumann concerto is a wandering imperfect work that Kremer believes in and has recorded twice (the second time with Harnoncourt on Teldec). This first outing for EMI under Muti is less fierce and eccentric. I remain unconvinced by the work's quality, but it never got a better champion than Kremer, who is inward, intense, an lyrical.
The two CDs are generously filled out with a recital of sonatas by Weber, Hindemith, and Schnittke, where Kremer shares the spotlight with a galvanized Andrei Gavrilov--they share a common vision of impassioned, often edgy readings that try to sound as spontaneous as possible. The major work is also the toughest, the jagged, free-form Quasi una Sonata of Schnittke, a 20-min. work that is brilliant but very taxing for both performer and listener. I'd never call the two sonatas by Himdemith and Weber works of genius, but over time we may find that this is.