Written by Stephen Brivati
Published: March 2, 2015 at 9:40 AM [UTC]
There seems to be a a fairly large body of opinion responding to the "Zimmerman Strad Problem," thread that is not very predisposed to classic violins. I have to admit the strength of opinion expressed surprised me a little, although I can't afford either so it doesn't affect me much!
Personally, I can understand and sympathize with the position of the pro-modern camp. There certainly are an awful lot of over-priced old violins out there that are not a patch on their modern relatives and yet have the mystique of name associated with them. Often to such an extent it seems that we can be blinded as to their true merits and relative value.
However, from another perspective, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me that those soloists using the absolute creme del creme of Guarneri or Strad find something in those instruments that makes them different from an exquisite and highly reliable modern. It is certainly true that these instruments often fail to prove superior to the listener in blind tests.
However, I am not sure this is the point. Great players like Zimmerman are, I suspect, much more finely attuned to something powerful and elusive in these instruments than the average player/listener, and it acts as their muse. Maybe it comes from a combination of age and the daily touch of a succession of great artists. I have no idea. But I do believe that this quality is real and it must be tangible enough to the greats that they are still willing to spent a number of years searching out the best possible way of playing such an instrument instead of playing on one of the many superb modern instruments now around. Of course, I have no rational basis for any of this but that is the privilege of blogging. 100 years down the road the instruments of Burgess et al will, in my opinion be the new Stradivari. Shame nothing is going to survive global warming.....
It's been a great week for finding new "stuff" on Youtube. My mind has been blown so often I sometimes feel totally discombobulated. Where to start....
Best find of the week was, without question, Gitlis playing the Adagio movement of the Bartok solo violin sonata. Gitlis doesn't seem to get mentioned much among the pantheon of great violinists for some reason. Maybe he just carried on a bit too long in a world that has far less tolerance for error and absolutely personal interpretations. Or maybe he did just a few too many concerts without practicing because he just didn't care. Didn't care in the nicest possible way. He is such a profoundly original and cosmopolitan artist it seems he needs to live to play rather than the other way round. On form he had one of the most terrifying techniques on the planet. Listen to the Bartok and weep. Then go to his Wieniawski Cappucino Valse in E major and look at the fast twitch up bow staccato. That's how it should be done!
Still on a slightly insane note but hidden behind a refined facade listen to the great Zimmerman playing the Bruch.
It's one of those performances that raises a rather interesting question: For most of us, playing what Bruch wrote with a few minor violinistic tweaks is the best we can do. Zimmerman quite unselfconsciously chooses to use bowing, phrasing or what not that suits his musical intent even when it differs (?) with what Bruch wrote to a considerable degree. Is this anti authenticity, or just simply that Zimmerman is such a great violinist he knows better than the composer how this piece should be played? For me he reinvents this work so it was almost like new to me. I had to go away and experiment with what he was doing. I leave it to you to decide.
Some of my favorite Bach is the accompanied sonatas. I have been frustrated by them for years as a player and a listener. There are many great performances by player of the past, the best of which may, to my ear be Szeryng. Then there are superb modern /authentic performances by Manze and the like. However, neither of these extremes has every completely satisfied me and I had just about given up until I stumbled across Mullova's version.
The great lady once again manages to synthesize the old and the new in a satisfactory way and I cannot recommend searching these performances out strongly enough.
(Here also, is her Chaconne:
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When I hear this my soul melts, I get shivers on my whole body and my eyes get moist. In that order in the first minute :P
There is no doubt that violinists do things differently now. Of course, things like modern strings, shoulder rests and competitions have all changed the type of sound we here but also perhaps how music is approached too. So the question in my mind was whether the golden age of the fiddle was dead and a step back has been taken to uniformity and bland. perfection. In seeking to answer this question I am listening to more modern players to see if they have anything to offer, whether they are individually recognizable and so on.
My personal response is a guarded yes. With some listening it is not that much more difficult to pick out Hahn, Vengerov, Bell, Kavakos, Mullova et al. And although the sound is generally less throbbing and tormented soul searching in essence , in other ways it is just as rewarding and satisfying to listen to these players as it is to the old. I also find new and interesting things that indicate an ongoing evolution in playing and sound. For example, Gringolts version of the Paginini Caprices is ground breaking and offers up new kinds of ideas for the violin. The problem is not to lose those beautiful and amazing things from the past. The sad thing is, even when I was a student, many of my fellow students had never even heard Heifetz or the young Menuhin play. And this was the RCM. I have never forgotten how weird and even tragic that seemed to me.
What I hope to do in my selections is to, in a modest way, save the reader time in finding the 'best' or perhaps just interesting version of something that is worth taking possession of.
In the same vein, I have heard Oistrakh playing the accompanied Bach, as well as Grumiaux, Szeryng and more players of that statue than I would care to name. In the cas eof Oistrakh I would never say it was anything other than superb but then everything of his is. But I think bach in general and these pieces in particular can take a very romantic violinists baroque approach and blow you away. At the same time , just for me, this is only one view of it which I find it doesn't quite meet what I feel and want. Probably Milstein would be the closest version for me of that generation but I don't have it , if it exists. To me , Oistrahks version is like a Van Gogh or Kandinsky painting. But I want something more like an exquisite stained glass window that gives that sensuality but let's through Bachs divine light. In my opinion, the result of a century of struggle and controversy over how 'real' violinists should play Bach has resulted in interpretations like that of Mullova that come closer to my ideal of what it can be.
Here are two korean (?) young ladies playing with as much soul as you would want, this is one of the exceptions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hultf4cdOXk
This young lady is another extraordinary exception https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuJo36h7UkQ
Here is some from the good old people :) Don't forget to put it on the highest quality, it makes a big difference:
An explosion of color by Zimbalist and Sarasate
Perhaps my favorite Menuhin recording
It's said that Casals called him the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart
This made me fall in love with high quality LP recordings
Enescu playing Mozart's 7th VC
I know that posting so much at once makes it highly unlikely that you'll listen to all of them, but I'm an idiot that way. I just can't leave one of them out :P
I think looking for reasons to see say the old were just as good as the new is like rationalizing religion. That is using twisted logic to make observed reality match your beliefs instead of being honest.
Cheers, and keep playing people!! :)
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