Written by Stephen Brivati
Published: February 3, 2015 at 12:09 AM [UTC]
I've got my early morning routine well settled these days. I ensconce myself in the nearest convenience store to my place of work with decent coffee. Then I write email to my myriad legion of fan, IE a budgie living out somewhere near Clapham. Then I study Go for an hour or so to free the wind. To round all this off I listen to Hilary Hahn playing the Korngold concerto. Everyday...
Don't know much about this concerto, except it's a masterpiece and the performer can now, in my opinion, justifiably be called one of the all time great violinists.
First thing that springs to mind is how she can use a variety of vibratos and vibrato speeds to change the color and mood of whole sections of the work. Very few players can do this with such ease and control. And she even does a large chunk of double stopping with no vibrato.....
One thing that fascinates me about her playing is her uncompromising use of the fourth finger in the higher positions. She has one of the strongest and most flexible pinkie of any of today's players. Watch closely and see how she also supports it most of the time with the third finger. One of the secrets of her reliability.
However, as I watch this over and over I begin to feel that this may not always be the best way to do things. I don't think we can get around the fact that even with a finger like Hilary's the tone is infinitesimally thinner than if a third finger was used. After focusing on this point I have come to believe that there is a slight loss of meatiness and weight there even to the detriment of the musical line on more than one occasion. I think there are places, especially in the slow movement where, for the sake of preserving tonal power she would actually sound better with this change. I wondered if there was a slight desire to avoid any kind of sleazy slide that was behind this apparent tonal deficit. I have never had any trouble being sleazy but I could imagine this being anathema to the great lady. A point that does feel right to me is that last screaming high note of the piece. The summit has been reached ! Halleluyah! I'm done! Before those last notes on the g string saying 'so just go home...' I am pretty sure that note would be more effective with a third.
Anyway, I'm off to listen to it again coz I love it.
In the meantime by way of contrast, have a listen to our esteemed colleague Hartmut Lindemann imitating a string orchestra in this Bach Sarabande. I did warn him what would happen if he kept screwing the bow up too tight.
Okay, you got some 'splainin' to do. Tell us what we're hearing in the Bach--sometimes all four strings? How does he keep to only one string? Simply more weight to bend the bow and then the hair over more strings? Flatter bridge too?
I had seen the youtube posting of Hilary playing Korngold before I went to her recital and I also saw her 4th finger vibrato first hand at the recital. After the concert I waited in line to talk with her and my specific question was how is it that she has such a beautiful 4th finger vibrato. Hilary told me that she is double jointed, which has pros and cons, but it does permit her to have a great finger vibrato using her 4th finger. She also said that years of practice has strengthened her 4th finger -- and yes, she said she does use her 3rd finger to support her 4th. She suggested that I try supporting my 4th with my 3rd too, even though I am not double jointed.
There is an excellent performance of the Korngold by another of my favorites, Philippe Quint, posted on youtube. If you watch it, you will see that Philippe usually uses his 3rd finger for vibratos where Hilary uses her 4th (although in the last minute of the recording you will see Philippe also playing 4th finger vibratos).
Obviously both 4th and 3rd finger vibratos can work -- although I believe most violinists are more comfortable using their stronger finger which, for most people, is the 3rd.
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