Alfredo Campoli & Bel Canto.
Having been born with such a natural talent Alfredo Campoli might have been expected to build his life around that talent. He did not; he enjoyed many activities and simply played when asked.
It was an unusual talent in the sense that he might be compared with Maria Callas or Luciano Pavarotti, not only because his tone was absolutely unique but also because he based his approach to performance on ‘bel canto’.
Just a few notes and his wonderful sound is instantly recognisable. Had he been born at a later time he might well have become an icon of the instrument. Unfortunately, the recordings of his performances that remain, although providing some insight into his tone and style, do not do justice to the enormous sound he drew from the instrument and the ability to derive the absolute perfection of tone invested in the instrument by the maker.
Born in Rome on the 20th October 1906 Alfredo died in Berkshire on 27th March 1991.
The family moved to London in 1911, and five years later Alfredo was already giving public concerts. By the age of thirteen he had won so many prizes that he was asked not to compete in future competitions. In 1919, however, he did enter the London Music Festival and won the gold medal for his performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. He went on to tour with such singers as Nellie Melba and Clara Butt.
During the depression there was little demand for a soloist and Alfredo formed his Salon Orchestra and the Welbeck Light Quartet playing at restaurants in London, and other such venues. He first appeared at a Prom in 1938 and during the Second World War gave numerous concerts for Allied troops.
After the war, he had extended tours of Europe, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia, while continuing his work with the BBC, eventually clocking up over 1,000 radio broadcasts.
Alfredo made his American début in 1953, playing Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the New York Philharmonic under George Szell and in 1955 gave the first performance of the Violin Concerto by Sir Arthur Bliss, which was written for him. In 1956 he twice toured the Soviet Union.
Alfredo Campoli owned the Dragonetti Stradivarius, however, it was his 1843 Rocca that he used predominantly, the Dragonetti being housed in the bank for security.
He considered the phrasing of each passage he played and if he could achieve 'bel canto' by shortening or lengthening a note then he would do so. He was not afraid to lift the bow from the strings, an act that seems to be completely avoided today. Brief breaks of sound can add tremendous drama and power to a performance, even when not indicated by the composer.
In 1961 I made a recording of Alfredo Campoli playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Hayes Orchestra in Bromley, Kent. The cadenza from the first movement is just a miracle. My wife and I subsequently visited Alfredo at his home in Southgate on many occasions and I had the great pleasure and privilege of recording him in rehearsal with Peter Katin. Daphne Ibbott and Valerie Tryon, I also promoted his last Queen Elizabeth Hall recital, which was recorded and will be published at a later date.
In about 1972 I was granted permission to record a lunchtime concert in the Fairfield Halls Croydon, given by Alfredo with the formidable British pianist Peter Katin. Two sonatas from that recording have now been published, together, with a Brahms sonata, recorded by the same duo in Alfredo’s Southgate home, to create a new CD, a review of which is being added to this site.
Lovers of the violin who didn’t have the great honor and joy of hearing Alfredo Campoli playing in a live situation missed the opportunity to hear probably the greatest, English violinist. The only choice now is to search out the few recordings that exist. I have decided to devote as much time as possible to issuing the substantial collection of private recordings I made of him during our years of friendship, with the blessing of his surviving widow, Joy Campoli. The first is now available. CD3/2009, the Fairfield Halls recital and Southgate rehearsal.
Alfredo was a warm human being and a unique violinist.
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