Fastest tastefull violinplaying you have ever heard?

May 10, 2011 at 09:37 PM ·

I assume that most of you have heard Kavakos playing Paganini´s 5:th Caprice on youtube. I really love the effect he gets by playing that fast but it could have been cleaner of course. I really love hyperspeed bowing in the right context.

What are the fastest violinrecordings you have heard?



Replies (26)

May 11, 2011 at 12:12 AM ·

 The end of the third movement of Hilary Hahn's Barber recording is quite quick.

May 11, 2011 at 12:43 AM ·

For reference, the Kavakos-Paganini video is, and the Hahn-Barber is (audio only).

These aren't the only ones. Luigi Bianchi in his 9-CD set of Paganini's works for violin and guitar shows how to move it on a bit when the occasion demands (no videos available, as far as I know, but he plays the Moto Perpetuo). And I can't forget the delightful 1947 film of Yehudi Menuhin playing Paganini's Moto Perpetuo, on

May 11, 2011 at 01:09 AM ·

The beginning of Kogan's Carmen Fantasy.

May 11, 2011 at 03:25 AM ·

Heifetz - in the 1st mvt. of the Sinding Suite. Fasten your seatbealts, folks! Incredibly fast - but more important, with a laser-like pinpoint accuracy and drive. And it's all in the service of this haunting piece of music. The direction of the line always comes through.

The same may be said of his Novaceck Perpetuem Mobile. It's fascinating how, without a chance in such music to vibrate on a long line, or use his famous portamento, Heifetz is still recognizably Heifetz.

Then there is his I think, his 1917 recording of the Paganini Moto Perpetuo. Listen to the aforementioned qualities already abundant here, along with perfectly controlled ritards into a tempos, etc. If this doesn't seem miraculous enough, the 16 year old Jascha, according to the memoir of his then pianist, Andre Benoist, played the fiendishly difficult piece fiirst thing at the recording session, twice in a row, after a long drive from Manhattan to Camden NJ - and wthout warming-up!! Benoist said that he, not Jascha, was the one sweating, though the piano part is easy, lest he make a mistake and ruin the take. But for Jascha it was, had he used 'Newspeak' "Oh, like it's hard?"

Or how about his runs in 3rds and 10ths in the Paganini Caprice no. 24? The list goes on and on...

All the above can be found on Youtube.

Heifetz was quoted as saying "I do not play faster than everyone else, but I do play clearly and distinctly."

May 11, 2011 at 03:43 AM ·

I don't remember the year of the recording but Arthur Grumiaux playing the Saint-Saens Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso

May 11, 2011 at 03:53 AM ·


interesting Raphael,  the Heifetz Sinding is the firts thing that sprang to my mind.  That recording haunted me when I wa sa teenager (which I still am,  of course).



May 11, 2011 at 04:02 AM ·

Yes, there's something haunting about the whole piece.

May 11, 2011 at 11:35 AM ·

Speaking of Grumiaux, as Jon did, and speaking of fast and tasteful, check out Grumiaux's Vieuxtemps Concerto #4 in d. The 3rd mvt. Scherzo goes fast as the wind, is as clear as a laser, but always in control, and with that legendary Grumiaux elegance and good taste.

Then there is the Paganini Moto Perpetuo recorded by Michael Rabin with orchestra - and done brilliantly and perfectly in a single take! The same piece with piano by David Nadien. It's fast but not trying to break the sound barrier, and impeccable.

Then there is 25 year old Isaac Stern playing the soundtrack to the movie, Humoresque. Because of the movie's requirements very few pieces are played in their entirety. But the excepts that we hear are amazing. Don't think of the elder Stern, past his prime and not practicing enough, nor of the mature Stern with a deep and magesterial approach. Stern at 25 was a hair raising virtuoso. Excerpts from the Pag. Moto, and caprice #5, Zigeurnerwizen and the Bumbelbee are played with incredible speed, adamentine clarity, and burning intensity. I re-watched that movie with a friend that I had over recently. At one point I blurted out that I'd better go home and practice, whereupon she reminded me that I was home!

Then there is this obscure guy called Klayman in his younger days, playing the Hora Stacatto pretty darn fast...but coming to think of it, I don't know how tasteful that was!


May 11, 2011 at 01:52 PM ·

Never heard Heifetz Sinding recording before but it is propably the most accurate highspeedplaying i have ever heard.

Speaking of Stern. I finally found his recording of Penderecki´s first concerto. A good and very demanding concerto.  Propably the most demanding piece Stern ever performed. It is propably one of the hardest violinconcertos ever recorded.

May 12, 2011 at 01:16 AM ·

Check out Bach Brandenburg Concerto #3 played by Musica Antiqua Koln -- especially the last movement.  O.M.G.!!!

May 12, 2011 at 01:34 AM ·

David Garrett playing ' Flight of the Bumble Bee' in which he averaged 13 notes per second!

May 12, 2011 at 07:39 AM ·

I knew that David Garrett would be mentioned but he seems to ba really overhyped violinist if you ask me.  He is hardly the fastest violinist in the world. Kavakos or Hahn for instance would propably be able  to play The Flight of the Bumblebee with 17 notes per second if they wanted to.

May 12, 2011 at 08:26 AM ·

Michael Rabin Novacek perpetuum mobile... unfortunately not availible on yt anymore..


May 12, 2011 at 08:55 AM ·

Heifetz was existing in a completely different dimension than the average violinist.  I know a couple of elite runners who live in this realm.  Forget Wheaties, they eat entire universes for breakfast.

May 12, 2011 at 11:01 AM ·

After eating only a tiny, insignificant bit of the Universe for breakfast, I would also mention Boris Belkin's 3rd mvt. of the Tchaikovsky Concerto (as recorded with Ashkenazy conducting in the late 1970's) even if I don't know if such blazing speed makes sense there. As for the subjective impression, which, in my opinion, is more important than the notes-per-second ratio, I also would go with the first mvt. of the Sinding Suite or the Burleigh Perpetuum Mobile by Heifetz, the Finale of the Goldmark Concerto by Milstein and Rabin's Paganini and Novacek "perpetual" efforts. 

May 12, 2011 at 11:43 AM ·

The original premise is speed AND good taste. There was also respectful criticism of Kavacos' tempo in the Paganini Caprice #5. Evennes and distinctness make a better impression at a slightly slower tempo. To be fair, I think that part (but only part) of the problem with the Kavacos performance is the acoustics. If the acoustics are too live, then even well-controlled speed can be blurred. Perlman famously talked about a performance he gave of the Tchaikovsky where he said that the last mvt. in those very live acoustics was rather blurry, even though "I know I played every note!"

Last season I performed the Rondo Capricioso with piano at a small church in Brooklyn. The otherwise beautiful acoustics were really too live for that sort of music. (My program also included a Veracini Allegro, the Wieniawski Legende, and with a soprano, the Strauss Morgan - all of which worked fine, acoustically.) I aimed to play the notorious last page at about  a modest 92-96 to the dotted quarter. In the heat of battle, it probably went at  about 100. Any faster and it would have been blurred in those acoustics.

But sometimes too fast is just too fast in any circumstances. It starts to lose all meaning and communication, and the audience is left behind. Heifetz had full control to play exactly how he wanted. I'm sure that's almost equally true of people like Hilary Hahn, whose Barber last mvt. goes like the wind, yet doesn't sound frantic. Glenn Dicterow's facility was equally impressive and with a richer tone in a live performance I heard him do of the same piece. The coda was unbelieveable - yet clear and disctinct. But again, too fast is just too fast. In a master class of the Tchaikovsky finale, Heifetz kept trying to get a student to use more bow and to slow down. H. demonstrated how it should go, and it sounded just so right - and it was maybe 152 or so to the quarter. Then he demonstrated how not to do it: he played so fast, and with so little bow that it just sounded absurd, and the students laughed - which was his intention. So yes, speed where appropriate - but always with good taste is what is meaningful.

May 13, 2011 at 01:55 AM ·


>>After hearing the young Heifetz play Paganini's "Moto Perpetuo" flawlessly on another occasion, Leopold Auer, who taught both Heifetz and Elman in St. Petersburg, Russia, said, "He doesn't even realize that it cannot be played that fast."<<

Here's the link to the NYT article.


May 13, 2011 at 02:10 AM ·


December 10, 2011 at 10:08 AM · Hi,

dono if anyone still checks this post but yea...there's been an ongoing argument who plays faster Heifetz or Michael Rabin. I am not really good at finding out the tempo. Wondering if anyone could find that out? one of those things that don't actually matter but bugs me every time :(

December 10, 2011 at 02:23 PM · Trevor

Your links to clips of Kavakos and Hahn are interesting. I'm not in this instance so very taken with either. That's not to say there are other things that I like.

Regarding Menuhin, I don't know if I dare say this, but asside from the fact that I have always and still do regard him as one of the greatest musicians, it seems obvious to me that he had a vey dodgy technique. He seemed to give great performances in spite of this.

I particualrly note his high left hand finger position shown in this film and the distance from the strings his fingers have to move from. Compare Perlman and others where the fingers hardly seem to move ...

I also note a bow arm that is maybe too floppy and which eventually may have led to his later problems.

Budding players should maybe steer clear of those rather complicated lessons he gave on film many years ago. Just my opinion.

Raphael - your comments about Heifetz are extremely interesting and I think spot on.

December 10, 2011 at 06:10 PM · Great choices and discussion about so many of the best of the best. I would add Ruggiero Ricci. In many performances (including Moto Perpetuo) he not only plays with incredible speed and articulation, but also maintains the pulse of the music without giving in because it gets particularly difficult. Yes, his shaping of the note may not be what Heifetz can do at top speed (and who else can?), but Ricci's drive and elan at top speed is really something else.

December 10, 2011 at 07:12 PM · Ricci's playing is pretty amazing, and he's one of the old greats, in my opinion.

If you read some of the books he's written you will find they make a lot of sense. Riici on Glissando is one that I find very stimulating.

He could certainly play - and his performances had great character.

December 10, 2011 at 11:37 PM · Moving slightly sideways in this discussion, there are some modern recordings of baroque pieces that demonstrate that baroque can really rock. One that comes to mind is Simon Standage with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert playing Vivaldi's Opus 3 "L'Estro Harmonico". But they're cheating, of course, – using baroque fiddles, bows and gut strings indeed! :)

December 11, 2011 at 05:23 AM · There is a youtube of Ji-Hae Park that is mighty fun to watch. Fast fingers and bow!

December 11, 2011 at 09:38 AM · Trevor

Simon Standage was a fellow student at the RAM and I used to occassionally do light music broadcast studio gigs with him playing on a modern fiddle. SO he was a very good "straight" fiddler as well.

December 11, 2011 at 10:33 PM · One of the first replies mentioned Hilary Hahn's Barber. While not the fastest playing in notes-per-second, I think it does reveal a different musical character to that piece than other recordings. The initial pulse is more of a racing heartbeat than most recordings, giving the hemiolas and the switch to 2/4 at the end more impact.

On a similar note, the first movement of her Stravinsky also got me hearing a piece in a new way. She follows the printed tempo marking, which I'd always thought to be a misprint due to it conflicting both with the later one at the 'recapitulation' (i.e. where it would be if it was one), and also with all earlier recordings I've heard. It gives the movement more humour and cheekiness, with the sudden scene-changes happening even more abruptly.

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