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Pauline Lerner

Wandering around Youtube

May 20, 2009 at 4:03 AM

I've enjoyed reading about Buri's meanderings through Youtube so much that I've decided to share some of my own.  There's plenty to share.  I waste spend many hours on Youtube.

This particular trip has its origins many years ago, when I learned to play the Bach Gounod Ave Maria from a book on classical music favorites for beginning violin students.  I loved it then, and I've loved it ever since.  I am not religious and I don't know what the words mean, but the song always gives me a great feeling of peace.  With no conscious effort, my breathing gets deep and slow, following the phrasing of the song.  During that time, I am part of the song, and the song is part of me.

The piece is a pairing of Bach's Prelude #1 in C major from The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 with Gounod's Ave Maria, as explained and performed in an unusual way by Bobby McFerrin.

I love the following recording of Dame Janet Baker singing the Gounod Ave Maria because she uses her beautiful, rich voice to great effect, mainly by large crescendos and decrescendos.  The organ part (the Bach Prelude) is relegated to a subordinate role.  At times it is nearly inaudible, overpowered by her voice.


In contrast is the performance by Christopher Parkening and Kathleen Battle.  Parkening plays his own inspired transcription of the Bach Prelude on classical guitar.  It is so beautiful that it could easily stand on its own as a work of art.  In the Battle/Parkening version of this piece, the guitar and vocal parts  are featured almost equally.  This is true in both the live performance at the Grammy Awards ceremony and the recording which won the award. 

Of course, I wanted to listen to the Gounod Ave Maria played by some great violinists, and I found recordings by Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Kreisler.  There are striking similarities in these recordings.  While the sopranos used crescendos and decrescendos to make the music ebb and flow, both violinists used mainly vibrato and glissando to create similar effects.  In each case, the song was performed twice, first with the violin playing the melody and then with a chorus or soloist singing the melody and the violin playing accompaniment.  Near the end of the recordings, each violinist did something very tricky:  playing in a higher register than the singers.  This makes the violin part stand out strongly, so it has be good, and it has to fit in well with vocal part.  Kreisler ended by playing the melody with the singers but in a higher register, and he did it beautifully.    

Kreisler was a master of transcribing and playing short pieces on the violin.  This clip dates back to 1914 and has the usual background hiss of old phonograph recordings, but it boasts the singing of John McCormack, legendary tenor.


This is a live recording of Heifetz playing with the Bell Telephone Orchestra and Chorus in 1951.  It is not commercially available. 

I spend a lot of time on Youtube, but I learn a lot about music while I'm there.



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