The Kreutzer Project: Building a bridge between Beethoven and Janáček

New York chamber orchestra The Knights bring together two musical bedfellows, but intimacy is lost amid the sonic grandiosity

The Kreutzer Project by New York chamber orchestra The Knights brings together two obvious musical bedfellows. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata for violin and piano (named after its French dedicatee Rodolphe Kreutzer, who never actually played it) is at the heart of Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata. Tolstoy’s presentation of marriage as an obstacle to true love, and music as an inciter of dangerous passions, appealed to Janáček, whose later life was inflamed by an unrequited passion for a woman 38 years his junior.

The Knights’ orchestrations (by leader Colin Jacobsen and horn player Michael P Atkinson) employ woodwinds, brass and percussion. And, although the list of players comes to just 24, the effect of both recording and style of orchestration is geared towards a kind of sonic grandiosity, as if to suggest the weight of greater numbers. The result in the Janáček is a loss of intimacy and responsiveness, though the evocation of typical Janáček orchestral sonorities is often highly effective. More is sometimes less.

The album uses two new works to create a bridge between Beethoven and Janáček. Colin Jacobsen’s Kreutzings is at its best when agitated and frothy. Anna Clyne’s more engaging Shorthand, for solo cello (Karen Ouzounian) with string quintet, is sometimes keening, sometimes dancing, with flashes of oriental flavour.

The Kreutzer Project
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Artist: The Knights
Genre: Classical
Label: Avie AV2555
Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor