This a link to a video I found both moving and disturbing at the same time.
On it, Eugene Fodor (1950-2011) (winner of the silver medal in the Tchaikovsky Violin Competition with the gold being cancelled so an American couldn’t receive it) not only demonstrates playing ability that has to be seen to be believed, but is also either sandbagged or voluntarily discusses his cocaine addiction and rehab at the kind of minimal depth that talk shows seem to excel in.
I do recall that his flying staccato bowing was legendary, with Heifetz (his teacher) reputedly asking him to demonstrate it for 15 minutes when he first met Fodor. The recordings I have looked at bear out the claim he may have had the best staccato bowing of all time. Take a look and you will see what I mean. It is superior to Heifetz’. He even does down bow staccato with bow turned in the normal direction using almost the whole length of the bow in both directions.
Of course, flying staccato is such a minor part of playing in general some great players rarely bother to even use it. However, Fodor is also beyond belief in many areas of technique including, well, "intonation," velocity, left-hand pizzicato and double stopping to name a few. Much of the time he can, honestly speaking, do this stuff faster, cleaner and better than just about anyone, including the best modern violinists.
Having said that, I somehow can’t really relate to his playing except to express unlimited admiration for his innate wizardry. One element of his artistry that bothers me is the constant on/off vibrato. I cannot see to what extent it is deliberate or not, and when he does vibrate it is, I think, the somewhat typical -extremely- rapid and intense vibrato which tends to happen when a player is soooo gifted with fast twitch thingummies, or reflexes or whatever it is which facilitate there tremendous velocity.
However, aside from the vibrato issue I get a constant sense of a musician, or perhaps just human being, who lost has their way. His interpretations, be they of Kreisler works or the Tchaikovsky Concerto seem to me to contain many creative and interesting interpretive ideas that only half happen. I stress this point because it is not the case that he is "not musical." It is as though the truly great artist inside him somehow can’t break free to express itself. More often than not, to my ears, his interesting ideas die out before being fully explored or applied. In their place emerges a certain charm, and astounding technique used to simply play things faster than everyone else.
Perhaps the worst example of this is the Bach E major Preludio which he tosses off at a demonic tempo. Ironically, at the time I was studying this I also had on a version by Ricci (a great violinist who was often written off as a mere "Paganini Specialist" by a lot of critics.) Ricci actually chooses a rather slow tempo and gives a sincere and musically honest performance by any standards.
While it is often unhelpful to get into the realm of psychological speculation regarding artists and what makes them tick, I can’t help feeling a kind of connection between Fodor the frustrated genius and his horrific experiences with drug addiction. I wish he had been happier and, for want of a better phrase "been all that he could have been" because as far as sheer violin playing goes, he towered above even some of the greatest players in our funny little world’s history.
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