The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Ben Breen (violin) Milton Kaye (piano)
Composer: Falla, Elgar, Debussy, Kreisler, Paradies, Moszkowski, Albéniz, Rachmaninoff, Sarasate & Gershwin

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 by comparison with the opulent luxuriousness of Itzhak 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 La vida 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 – as, for example, in Kreisler’s Rondino on a Theme of Beethoven or the Paradies Sicilienne – Breen really comes into his own, subtly shading each phrase with beguiling sensitivity. The purity of tone he sustains in the Rachmaninoff Vocalise and Kreisler’s Liebesleid 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.