Can you identify great players' sound?

February 18, 2011 at 08:51 PM ·


Evan in another thread wrote the following:

" As an obessive record collector for over 30 years, I have had the pleasure of listening to many fine recordings by a tremendous number of artists. All my life, I have devoted my efforts to classical music (98% my collection), especially recordings of  violinists. Many of today's best violinists do not have the time to devote to listening to recordings, as the demands of a concert artist are overwhelming. I can honestly say if I had spent less time playing tens of thousands of records, and MORE time practicing, I may have accomplished far more in life!

But I got hooked. Not so much on my generation of violinists-- but those of the previous era. Once I heard the 78s (originals and re-issues) of the great masters, it all became evident why that generation held them in such high esteem. It also changed how I feel about music and how powerful a work of art can be.

I can appreciate how each of us may have our own opinions and preferences about favorite violinists and recordings-- I've certainly had my share of favorites! When you've heard a dozen interpretations of a favorite work and find one that you believe is the best, you take note.  When you've heard 50 different interpretations of that same work, then find one that completely and profoundly changes your life, you've reached a better understanding.

But music is not a horse race. Each musician shares his/'her interpretation--hopefully provides insight and meaning, adds expression to this most noble art. It would be unfair to openly critique todays violinists. I am neither a better performer than they, nor a professional music reviewer. I do believe I may be able to shed light on the "golden age" of violinists (and musicians in general)."

since Evan can shed light on "golden age" violinists and have spent time listening to recording of violinists, i presume some other readers might also have had similar experiences or abilities.  it may be an interesting exercise to test the ears or knowledge.  if i tell you a recording is by heifetz,  you may recognize the sound regardless or, given that prompt.  

so let's do it differently.  below are 2 sound samples, player A and player B. without giving more information, let's see if people can identify the pieces of music for starters (yay,, even that is above my level:) and then, the main course, the players and the eras.  

it will be supremely impressive if people can pin down to particular recordings or some historical background.  hey, how about nationality?

as a bonus,  not to be suggestive or anything, if you can correctly identify whether the players are male or female, i may come over to wash your car or cars for one week!

have fun!  (i will be away for a week, not sure about internet connection so may not be able to provide hints or clarifications)


sample B:

Replies (43)

February 18, 2011 at 10:28 PM ·

Okay, I'll bite on the starter.  Sample A is La Campanella by Paganini.  Sample B is Valse-Scherzo Op. 34 by Tchaikovsky.

February 18, 2011 at 11:06 PM ·

 haha,,,that is surely above my level, maestro cheung!  but lets go with way above!  


February 19, 2011 at 02:08 AM ·

Wow, Al, I"m really not sure at all but I'm going to guess:

A: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

B: David Oistrakh


February 19, 2011 at 02:45 AM ·

 ahh, thank you terry for your entry.  partial to B? :)

when i put my kid to the test,,,she picked A.  not surprising. shiny,  brilliant with a catchy melody. beauty to her is but skin deep.  whack!

me?  not wiser but older, i find B easy on my ears and soothing to my soul if there is one.  

ok, folks, got a 6:00 am flight to catch, probably have to get up at 3!  so in the next hour or so, between packing,  i am at your service :)   i will do anything for you except telling you the answers.

in the next 7 days, although you are al-free--a cause for celebration--  feel free to look at each other's answers before you hand in yours. it is an open book test.   the only way you can fail this test is by leaving the spaces blank.  i give partial credit for courage or mistaken identity/identities.

as woody allen put it: 90% of success is just showing up.  

i hate to surprise you; please surprise me.

ps.  on this trip when i play 20-questions with my kid, i will be thinking of you.  


February 19, 2011 at 03:01 AM ·

Well yes, if you ask me, I am partial to B.

I can't really presume to guess that my answers are correct. But A seemed to me to be one of several violinists who try to bend their interpretations to the boundaries of what the music will take. The ones that come to mind are Thomas Zehetmair and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. But there are so many violinists out there - unless I had acuttally heard the clip before I feel like I'm only guessing.

Hope you have a good flight. I really enjoyed your thread about the SR-less playing - very interesting observations. You really should consider taking up the violin. :) 

February 19, 2011 at 03:36 AM ·

 thank you terry.  

can you imagine if i take up the violin and then start yet another shoulder rest soul searching,,,haha,,,it will be injustice to the musical society or the society at large:)

i really may do it after the kids are out of the house,,,just so much going on right now.   once you sell your soul to your kids, they take everything away! :) 

have a nice week everyone!


February 19, 2011 at 05:53 AM ·

Yes, the B sound pretty "Oistrakian" to me... but I have a bug... On my Oistrakh recordings of Valse Scherzo, he plays it faster so I'm confused.  But it's the same golden tone, the gut strings and musical expression.  Fingerprints of these Jewish players... If it's not Oistrakh himself, it has to be a co-violinist of similar school and era (as Milstein per example or one of his pupils etc)     On some occasions, I have mistaken him with his pupils or other soviet players of that era.  

On some recordings, one can be pretty sure but on some others... it can be harder! 

We'll laugh at ourselves when you'll tell us who it was! 

If it's a less known player (I mean not Milstein, Menuhin, Heifetzh, Oistrakh, Kreisler etc), then it'm sure I won't have it!  

First player... I really don't know.  Could be Vengorov or so?   

Yes, I'm partial with the 2nd player!!!






February 19, 2011 at 09:43 AM ·

Let me try!!!!

A: La Campanella (Paganini). OK, no problem there. However, who is playing??? I think it is Perlman. Why? I can't explain.

B: I don't recognize the piece, nor the player.


February 19, 2011 at 06:45 PM ·

It's on such threads that we see the real courage of poeple...

The real connoiseurs didn't dare trying to answer from what I saw...  perhaps frighten to look ridicoulous if they don't name the good players.  Am I right : )

(come on it's a GAME and no one will laugh at you...  I'm sure many professionnal musician could not be able to tell who are these players...) 

Come on and play...  !!!


February 19, 2011 at 06:49 PM ·

A: Al's daughter

B: Al's daughter while Al is frying bacon in the background


February 19, 2011 at 07:34 PM ·

Al: Much of what you wrote parallels my experience. Yes, I'm familiar with mostly the "older" generations of violinists, and have a better-than-average chance of identifying their unique violin "voice" from just a few measures. I have no idea who "A" is, but I think "B" is Leonid Kogan. It sounds to me like that Russian style of playing.I know some have guessed Oistrakh, but Oistrakh tended to take his time and caress his phrases more than "B." And I did have the thrill of hearing Kogan once, in his prime, in his first recital in Chicago when he burst on the scene in the the 1950's. The sound of that playing haunts me to this day. So, I may be wrong, but "B" sounds like Kogan to me.
And, by the way, I'm sure that the piece "B" is playing is indeed Russian, in fact by Tchaikovsky, but I don't remember the name of it. Is it Valse-Scherzo?

February 19, 2011 at 08:37 PM ·

Hi Sander, I agree that it could also sound like Kogan.  I checked him out on youtube yesterday but his playing of that peice sounded more rough than on the video of player B.  Not rough as "ugly" just more scratchy style.   But you're the one who heard them live... lucky you : ) 

But yes, I'm also not sure for Oistrakh since it's not his tempo...  Yes Oistrakh takes his time and caress the phrases but in my recordings of that peice, he must have taken coffee ; ) as it's pretty much faster than player B and not the sound I'm used from him.   That's why I'm so confused about player B!!!






February 19, 2011 at 09:31 PM ·

 To me it sounds a lot like Ga Yeon Lee, the student from Professor Sassmannhaus violin masterclass, but the more I listen to it the more I am doubting myself LOL LOL LOL

February 20, 2011 at 01:49 AM ·

After seeing everyone's responses I want to revise my initial opinion.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt - with the doubt in this case having the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago on a sunny day, I think it is probably:

A: Perlman (always charming playing). I don't know the Paganini that well and so all of the bending of rhythm struck me as a bit out of the ordinary. But upon further reflection, I'm guessing the bending of the rhythm is probably fairly standard. Perlman is not one who I consider to be on the boundaries of interpretation but is always charming.

B: Kogan (Sander's rationale of Oistrakh being more likely to caress his notes won me over).


February 20, 2011 at 02:17 AM ·

Paganini Concerto #2, La Campanella. Noisy sound clip, recorded on low-fi analog cassette recorder at 100 meters away. Hard to guess the performer, but it's NOT one of the great masters of the past, thats for sure. Compare to Ricci's brilliant recording  as a 12 year old:

Valse Scherzo, same cassette recorder only from down the block from the performance, via an open window. Don't know who's playing here either!

Um, its not just the players that were better way back when... apparently the 78 rpm recording technology was better too     :-)

February 20, 2011 at 03:21 AM ·

Oh Thierry, we can revise our responses??? 

Ok then yes perhaps Kogan : )   But it stills bugs me that for some aspects it's so similar to Oistrakh.  But because of that tempo difference between Oistrakh and player B, I think I have no choice than to tell it's someone else...   Though it's clearly the same school of playing.

The tempo is more similar to Kogan's but if he's player B, he scratches more on his youtube recording of Valse Scerzo than on his player B version (well back in these days, their scratchy would be consider elegant playing of today...) 




I'll say that player B is a Stoliarsky pupil for sure!!!   Then I do not copy Sander but I broaden my chances a lot, perhaps too much lol  

BTW, watch out for Kogan's Campanella on youtube...  I almost fainted it's so perfect!  I love it because it's Paganini but with Russian energy... quite a mix but it's beautiful!! 

February 20, 2011 at 12:46 PM ·

Interesting discussion. To me, it's not that Oistrakh is necessarily slower, it's that he makes subtle emphases (often using just a shade of rubato and his unique vibrato) on certain notes. It's not a'la Heifetz - it's a'la Oistrakh. When I heard Kogan live, you couldn't ask for cleaner playing, and this even included the Bach C-Major Sonata, in which he played the chords in the Fugue legato (not orthodox Baroque playing, but really beautiful), and you actually didn't hear any bow noise; it was seamless. Many of his recordings are really, really clean. As I recall, the video of him I heard was from a live performance (no?). In a live performance, you have to allow for any inadequacies in the recording technique (e.g., microphone unnaturally close) and, of course, for the fact that no one is perfect (not even Heifetz).

February 20, 2011 at 02:01 PM ·

N°1 sounds like Gitlis at times, but not as wild...

N°2 could be Oistrakh, although the phrasé is different

February 20, 2011 at 03:18 PM ·

Hi, I don't think Al would be that mean to confuse us : )  but for player B

It could pretty well be a Oistrakh pupil who plays very similar to him...



Per example see Oleg Kagan  (One can not be mistaken about who was Kagan's teacher...  He carries Oistrakh "signature" in his playing like not many do...  Perhaps he used the same strings too at that time?  Also it's the same exact vibratos.)

February 20, 2011 at 06:25 PM ·

-- I just listened to "B" again. I may be wrong about Kogan (although to me it still sounds like him), but it still does not sound like Oistrakh.
-- I just listened to "A" again. I still have no idea who that is. It is wonderful playing, but the pulse is a bit on the erratic side and without a sense of connecting one phrase to another. I don't think this violinist is in the peerless Oistrakh/Kogan/Gitlis/Heifetz/(etc.) category.

February 21, 2011 at 08:58 PM ·

 "The peerless category". I like that. It's a little like the Solipsists' Society.

Of course, it is perfectly clear what you mean, Sandy.


February 22, 2011 at 03:04 PM ·

Thank you. Yes, I didn't mean "God-like" - just at what might generally be considered by most the highest level of excellence (technically and musically).

February 22, 2011 at 03:53 PM ·

Al, will you tell us before long who these "mysterious"' players are??? : )


February 22, 2011 at 07:33 PM ·

This is an interesting discussion, and while I won't even attempt to guess who the players are (I have not listened to enough recordings of the old masters to render a guess), I am quite certain that there are people who can tell quite readily just by listening to a few measures.  Different artists have different signature sounds that are unmistakable to the educated listener.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell mentions an interesting analogy.  It had to do with tracking enemy troop movements during WWI.  Believe it or not, they were able to track enemy troops by listening to morse code transmissions.  It turns out that each morse code operator has their own signature sound and an experienced morse code operator could listen to the transmission of another operator and recognize who it was, much like we can recognize someone's voice when they talk.  So each troop of soldiers would have a morse code operator and as the troop moved around, so would the morse code operator.  Since they could recognize the transmissions of the operator, they could use that to track the movement of the troops.

Now, if someone can listen to a series of clicks and tell who it is, then I would guess that Al's challenge is infinitely easier since there are so many more clues to go by -- the phrasing, the tone, the speed and amplitude of the vibrato, etc.

February 23, 2011 at 01:24 PM ·

Yes, right on. It's a question of what I would call a unique "voice." And, by the way, who is this guy "Morris Code"?

February 23, 2011 at 07:25 PM ·

But do someone agree that today, because of the huge number of players and the more and more "standard" method, it's quite hard to tell appart voices.?

That may be just my impression too...

February 23, 2011 at 09:38 PM ·

Is A Midori or Sarah Cheng?

February 26, 2011 at 07:50 PM ·

 well, thank you everyone for participating in this guessing game/experiment.  i had no idea what i was doing; some may argue neither did you but only the former is true!  anne marie is probably spot on saying that some lurkers are just shy and coy:)

you see,  if you could really nail player A and B just like that, then i would have to assume you had some sort of insider info.  or dumb luck and that would be no fun.   you can safely guess i would not put heifetz up there since he's been studied extensively. (it is probably safe to say there are not many good imitators of h out there because h is just so unique).  

i am more interested in and impressed with how you guys have reasoned it through--back and forth like the old guy with a metal detector on the beach that i saw in the past week-- than coming up with the right answers. is it too preachy to say that we grasshoppers often learn more through the process than at the destination?

evan noticed about the poor acoustics.  although his imagination could be too vivid on the setup, he's got a point.  i believe the recording was from a live show, though i don't know the specifics. it certainly did not help with bringing them onto the youtube through another distortion.  but his protest prompts me to share with you this. if you are an audiophile, you may droll.  i cannot wait to see classical musicians collaborate with this guy soon.  bookmark this!

whereas smiley's baconator guess emitted an enticing odor:), his reference to gladwell's blink concept is very pertinent.  notice this:  as a group of decoders,  not one of you ever deviated and suggested heifetz, possibly the gold standard if not the first thing in your mind /ear to rule out. therefore,  even without any on job training, all of you have made that call implicitly and correctly. impressive!

having said that, you are now left with 999 other choices to go over but most of you, as evan said in the other thread, probably did not have the luxury of time for that task even if you are up for the task. you know what you know; you know what you don't know; you don't know what you don't know, to borrow a saying.

interestingly, others have repeatedly circled around k and o;  a few suggested fine current players. some of you are quite convinced that the clips are products of russian school.  actually, is there a difference, musical product wise, between russian school vs soviet school?  and i wonder why i ask that:)

so gang,,,how do you want to proceed?  the moment you are told something,  the musical sleuth in you will stop working.   ain't that the truth?! :)  

hint:  player A    =   male   =    player B.


February 26, 2011 at 09:33 PM ·

Hi, I could see this as

Both are males

Or player A and B are the same male player...

Pls, tell us one day so that we can laugh at our errors!!!

Yes, Indeed many shy and coy on

Can we at least, have a bravory medal  ; ) 

February 27, 2011 at 03:08 AM ·

 Gitlis = male = Shumsky

February 27, 2011 at 04:02 AM ·

It seems to me that there's no way that player A and player B are the same person. But I'm with Anne Marie, maybe you (Al) could clarify a bit regarding your clue? 

I've also started listening to the Paganini some more from other violinists on Youtube. I think the interpretation is a little out there for player A. But if  it isn't Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg, who of course is female, I'd have to change my guess to Thomas Zehetmair. I'll stick with Kogan for player B, for now.

I guess it's sort of cheating to keep changing my mind, but I didn't see any fine print saying that I couldn't. :)  Besides which, I'm probably totally wrong, especially about player A.

Al, I'd be interested in knowing the answer, then having a crack at another couple clips, if you don't mind that is.

February 27, 2011 at 04:24 AM ·

 to be fair to anne marie, sam and terry and, to be factual,

player A = player B.  

thus, 2 different recordings by the same player who grew up in the soviet system.  

and, as far as i know, he is alive and kicking. 

how about i divulge tomorrow while you guys give it a final thought?

btw,  please don't consider there is any correct or incorrect, right or wrong on this guessing game. you guys have been great sport!

if through this exercise some of you actually critically reviewed some playings by the giants of the field, which i am sure terry and anne marie did,  i can at least claim that is a good thing!

February 27, 2011 at 05:02 AM ·

First step, I definitivly eliminate Kogan if A = B

The Paganini is too nice to be Kogan's  (Kogan who has these "little shark" bow attacks in Campanella)

Oh yes, and in addition, Kogan is not of this world : (

I'm investigating

Vengerov is too famous so you wouldn't post him...


So might be (and a still alive male... hum?)

I'll investigate on

Gidon Kremer

Vadim Gluzman

Igor Oistrakh (or Valery Oistrakh)

Vadim Repin

Alexander Markov





February 27, 2011 at 05:14 AM ·

I think the distinctive signature tone was more evident in the old masters (there I go again, plugging old dead violinists instead of living ones :-) . It's hard to guess the performer because he sounds like many of today's violinists!  It wasn't just Heifetz who had his own sound. Kreisler was unmistakenly Kreisler. Elman had an expressive tonal range that set him apart. Kogan had a razor sharp precision and accuracy on every note, Maud Powell used portamento's and glissandos like no other, Ysaye had his lively and agressive tone that you cannot forget, Szegeti had the romantic, gypsy tone, early Menuhin recordings he made as a teenager were very distinctive in the way he accentuated notes, etc, etc, etc.

After 1950 or so, violinists started sounding the same-- or at least were striving for the same (ideal???) tone, and lost their individuality. It became very difficult to identify one recoriding from another. It's not a Heifetz thing, its a music thing. There were a few holdouts, some violinists retained their style (Rosand's recordings of Sarasate, for instance, and Konstanty Kulka's recording of Wieniewski's Scherzo Tarentelle, Erica Morini's Tchaikovsky concerto, and Erodice Shapiro playing Stravinsky on AVA records).

This is why, in my opinion, vocalists like Andrea Bocelli are so good- they dare to have their own style, even if it is not the last word in refinement. Heck, I'll take feeling and expression over accuracy any day! Artur Schnabel dared to record the Beethoven piano sonatas, mistakes and all-- and many claim its still the best cycle ever. I agree.

But back to the contest... who is it? Living male soviet school violinist. I'll toss out a few possibilities-- maybe Dimitri Sitkovetsky? Perhaps a student of Tretyakov-- maybe Roman Kim.


February 27, 2011 at 05:48 AM ·

Is the violinist Dmitri Berlinsky?

February 27, 2011 at 06:09 AM ·

February 27, 2011 at 06:12 AM ·

I'm pretty sure the violinist is Dmitri Berlinsky.  Listen to the samples on his website:

February 27, 2011 at 06:15 AM ·

Wow 100% sure on my head it's Berlinsky  

Thanks Y. Chung!

Very impressive of you!!!  I didn't even know who Berlinsky was.  Thus I could never have guess that alone!

It's obviously the same.  Even the most beginning violinist of the planet could tell this with the provided samples...


February 27, 2011 at 03:04 PM ·

great job everyone!

the music sleuth award goes to y cheung who might have listened to one more recording than evan:)  

the watson award goes to anne marie who is always helpful and supportive.  

i have learned a lot reading through all the postings.  since you guys are violinists, you probably can walk away from this experience with more unique perspectives and insights.

as much as i would like to acknowledge evan's point of having a unique voice, to a point, i think it is important to not go out of way to overlook or ignore living talents.

have more faith in yourselves and in ourselves.  let history makes the judgement 200 yrs later but meanwhile, nurture what nature has given you because i say so, hahahahahah!



February 27, 2011 at 03:43 PM ·

Very, very good challenge and a great discussion. But after listening to this violinist over and over again, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that all of you are wrong --- this violinist is Pietro Locatelli. And that's my final answer. And I identified him not by the sound, but by the Italian accent.
:) Sandy

February 27, 2011 at 04:29 PM ·

Well, I certainly would never have guessed Berlinsky, since the only Berlinsky I knew of (until now that is) is the founding cellist of the Borodin Quartet! :) 

It would probably have been easier to guess at telegraph operators. At least there probably aren't 1000 telegraph operators that one would have to guess at - not that I'm an expert at identifying great telegraph operators' sound either!

February 27, 2011 at 05:04 PM ·

excellent point, terry.  gladwell's blink's nazi telegraph team was probably a handful of soldiers and you guys in this exercise was presented with an ocean, with foamy acoustic waves crashing and lapping on the skull lines again and again :)  

and, my-final-answer award is bestowed to sandy:)

February 28, 2011 at 12:36 AM ·

Just had to plug a good living and young violinist with original sound: Axel Strauss recording of Rode etudes, available on Naxos. IMO, the BEST etude recording ever! He blends a limited vibrato style  like a period performer, yet plays on a modern violin.  I can't wait to hear more from this fiddler!

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