Reissue of a CD first published in 1997 and, as I write, still available pretty cheap on the marketplace, Enescu: Impressions d'Enfance; Schulhoff, Bartok: Violin Sonatas.
It was and remains great to see a violinist of the stature of Kremer tackle Enescu's "Impressions d'Enfance" (Impressions from Childhood), an incomprehensibly neglected and under-recorded masterpiece of the 20-Century repertoire for Violin and Piano, equal in stature to the composer's Third Sonata. Composed in 1940, in a time of war, and first performed by Enescu himself and Dinu Lipatti at the piano, "Impressions d'Enfance" is a nostalgic and comforting reflection of the ageing composer (he was turning 60 then) on his childhood, and especially a conjuration of his memories from the famous Gipsy fiddler Nicolas Chioru. It is a suite of 10 pieces playing without break, with evocative titles - "The Strolling Fiddler", "The Old Beggar", "Brooklet at the Far End of the Garden", "Bird in Cage and Cuckoo Clock on the Wall", Lullaby", "Cricket", "Moon through the Window Panes", "Wind in the Fireplace", "Storm Outside, in the Night", "Rising Sun"; the music is descriptive, but it is much more than that: Enesco puts to full use a wide array of incredible Gipsy-inspired violin effects, trills, sul ponticello and ricochet bowing, harmonics, ornate melismatas. Special highlights are "The Strolling fiddler", appropriately written for unaccompanied violin, first rhapsodic then finishing like a Bach sonata, the "Bird in Cage" with its incredible high-pitched trills and glissandos, the Cricket sound played with saltando bowing, the "Wind in the Fireplace" with its "quasi sul ponticello un poco flautato, non vibrato" playing. It is a journey through late afternoon, evening and night, ending with the rising morning sun in an exultant D major.
As expected, Kremer contributes a great reading, full of excesses but marked by a unique personality. His Fiddler plays - not inappropriately - with exaggerated and schmaltzy glissandos, and so does his Old Beggar. His Brooklet is even more evocative and poetic than Leonidas Kavakos' on ECM (a very fine reading in its own right: Ravel: Sonate posthume; Tzigane; Enescu: Impressions d'enfance; Sonata No. 3), thanks to the greater character Kremer gives to his harmonics playing and to the beautifully hazy, watery ripples that Maisenberg conjures. Like Kavakos, Kremer plays his Cricket not only saltando as instructed by the composer (and as do both Philippe Graffin - In The Shade of Forests: The Bohemian World of Debussy, Enescu & Ravel - and Mihaela Martin - Enescu: Impressions) but with a pinched sound as well, lending it again unique character. Kremer's readiness to uglify his tone, conjuring eerie and frightening sounds, imparts his Wind in the Fireplace with unequalled evocative and terrifying power; the ensuing Storm may not be as agitated as the others, but Kremer is marvellously alive to the sudden shifts in dynamics. Throughout he displays admirable attention to the myriad details of dynamics and tempo changes. Only in the final sunrise do I find him a little short of the piece's spirit of exultation, because of a slightly too languid tempo and, at the beginning, a tone just a little too big to conjure the purity asked for by Enescu.
Kremer has long been an advocate of Schulhoff's music. In its outer movements (both built upon the same theme), the Sonata from 1927 has the forward-moving impetus, robust rhythms and grating harmonies of similar works by Hindemith, Bartok, Roussel and Villa Lobos. The sunny optimism of the first movement recalls again Roussel or Villa Lobos, while the violin's whimsicality in the third movement brings to mind Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale. The second movement I find to be the most interesting one, a sombre and impassioned dirge that, again, Villa Lobos might have written (I've been listening to the latter's String Quartets). What the Sonata lacks, perhaps, is the unique and unmistakable personality of Bartok, Hindemith or Stravinsky, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.
Kremer had already recorded Bartok's two Violin and Piano Sonatas for Hungaroton as early as 1974 (you won't know from the CD reissue, which only gives a copyright date of 1986: Bartók: Sonatas for Violin and Piano). The two partners' view of the Second Sonata was more open to the composition's dreamy quality than to its fierceness. Kremer was surprisingly subdued, but he had in Yuri Smirnov a subtle an lithe pianist, very alert to the scores' precise details of articulation and phrasing. Kremer re-recorded the First with Martha Argerich in 1990 (Violin Sonatas / Theme & Variations (Messiaen)), and this new Second now completes the cycle. From the first bars one notices a new vehemence abetted by a vivid recording, very expansive tempos and an atmosphere that, in the first movement, is alternately brooding and dreamy and suffused with a pent-up menace that is rarely allowed to burst out, and at times even laid-back in the second movement, but with a fine build-up of tension leading to the desperate utterance of the theme upon its reappearance at the end of Sonata (10:29). Maisenberg is a powerful pianist (at 9:04 in the second movement you are directly projected in the sound world of the two first Piano Concertos) with also plenty of snap in the second movement. Much in evidence also are again Kremer's rich coloristic resources (witness the harmonics starting at 1:33 in the first movement or the struck strings "battuto" at 0:50 in the second movement) and eagerness to take risks, sometimes again at the point of bad taste (the schmaltzy accents at 1:47 in the second movement, sounding like a drunkard barfing). In the original issue there was apparently an editing error at 00:30 in the second movement, with the first pizzicato C left out - apologies for sounding pedantic here.
In sum, you can sometimes question Kremer's "good taste", but certainly not his unique personality.
I don't know what the budget reissue offers in terms of liner notes, but you won't get worse than the original: the disc's presentation was hip and hollow and provided scanty and uninformative liner notes, with no information on the compositions or composers, just short contemporary statements about the three composers/performers performing style - and nothing on the bonus, Plakidis' "Two Grasshoper Dances", retained here, naïve folk melodies (the first peppered with sardonic harmonics) excerpted from Kremer's disc "From my Home" (From My Home: Music from the Baltic Countries), which makes them now the reissue of a reissue. So your preference for the Apex reissue or the original is a matter of price, and preference for cover art.