I may be making up this memory, but I think my discovery of Kremer was back when we were young and hopeful and discovering the world (e.g. late 1970s – early 1980s), when a good friend of mine came back from the Soviet Union with the LP (on the German label Eurodisc, rather than Melodiya, that’s why I think I might have made it all up) of Kremer playing the Sibelius Concerto and Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 for two violins (with Tatjana Gridenko) – my first discovery of Schnittke, also. And the discovery of Schnittke was then more shattering than that of Kremer – you had never heard music like that at the time, when serialism and the avant-garde still dominated: starting like a pastiche of baroque music, then skidding into disonant and frantic episodes, as baroque music turned mad, as Gizmo mutating into Gremlin, or as if a clown tore off his mask to reveal The Joker. Still, Kremer was associated to that shaking discovery.
Back in those days Kremer wore those horrendous Soviet glasses – remember the derelict looks of poor Shostakovich, also? – and, with his big, plumpy lips, looked incredibly ugly – someone you wanted to listen to, but not look at. Well, since he moved to the West, he’s certainly improved on that. Incredible how capitalism and contact lenses can change the face of mankind. Hey, if Shostakovich had been authorized to wear lenses, maybe he could have top-modelled for Armani.
Back in those days I thought of Kremer as a “Russian” violinist. It’s only more recently, after the demise of the Soviet Union, that I realized, as with many Soviet composers that I had bundled in the category “Russian”, that he was not Russian, but Latvian (although he confesses to not being entirely fluent in the language), and not Gidon Kremer, but Gidons Krēmers. As conductor Neeme Järvi, at one point in his performing and recording career, he started resolutely championing his fellow Baltic composers.
Or maybe my discovery of Kremer was with his Brahms Violin Concerto with Karajan – in those early days, I still thought that if Karajan endorsed a performer, it must mean that the performer was important. Well, in the case of Kremer, he certainly was. I’m not sure that, with success and the multiplication of his engagements and activities, he’s always maintained his violin playing at its highest level, and he’s indulged into, and even championed some neo-tonal, simplistic and sentimental music by some of his fellow Baltic composers and others which is not always what I prefer in his choices. Nonetheless. It’s not just a question of how talented a performer is, how easy his technique and how pure his sound: it’s a matter of how imaginative and daring he is, how willing he is to take risks and tread off the beaten track, in his choice of repertoire as well as in his interpretations, and Kremer is certainly that kind of performer.
My reviewes of CDs performed by Kremer include:
“From My Home”: works of Dvarionas, Pärt, Barkauskas, Vasks, Pelēcis, Plakidis, Tüur. Kremer (violin and direction), Vadim Sacharov (piano), Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie (recorded April 1996). Teldec Classics 0630-14654-2 (1997)
Georgs Pelēcis: Revelation. Kremerata Baltica, Kremer (violin and direction) (recorded November 2005). Megadisc Classics MDC 7797 (2009)
“De Profundis” (works of Sibelius, Pärt, Šerkšnytė, Schumann Nyman, Schubert, Kovacs, Shostakovich, Auerbach, Piazzolla, Pelēcis, Schnittke). Kremerata Baltica, Kremer solo violin and conductor (recorded 8-11 December 2008, Schnittke 23 October 2001). Nonesuch 7559 79969 9 (2010)