Julia Fischer performs the same piece on two different violins (YouTube)

March 25, 2013 at 01:20 PM ·

The piece: Fritz Kreisler's "Scherzo-Caprice"

Here is her live performance from March 23, 2013, on her

2011 Philipp Augustin violin

starting at 11:48 on

this YouTube clip

and there her live performance from March 11, 2013, on her 1742 Guagadnini violin starting at 12:57 on

that YouTube clip.

Sorry for the TV talk show quality of sound.

FMF

Replies (49)

March 25, 2013 at 02:03 PM · Very interesting Frank-Michael, thanks for bringing this to our attention! To my ears the Augustin has a much clearer and louder sound, while the Guadagnini is more subtle, more colourful and diverse sounding. As far as this is possible to judge from these videos of course.

March 25, 2013 at 02:11 PM · She sounds the same on both instruments - as most good or bad fiddle players do.

March 26, 2013 at 02:10 PM · I have to agree

March 26, 2013 at 04:39 PM · Lyndon wrote:- "To my ear the Guadagnini has a fuller more resonant sound,"

I agree with that - but she does make the other violin sound terrific.

It goes to demonstrate that fiddles don't exist in a vacuum. The aural result for the listener depends on a partnership betweeen fiddler and instrument.

My own recent experience has been this. Recently I spotted a cheap violin on ebay and bought it on the strength of (a) very nice timber - the table looking up to the standard of the best Northern Italian wood, and the back very well flamed, and (b) model and construction.

It cost me quite a few units of local currency to put it in order at the local fiddle shop, but it's great to play on. Terrrific. I own fiddles with greater "insurance value" that are harder to make sound really well.

Remember that when Albert Sammons played a new Alfred Vincent folk thought he had played a real "Strad" !!!

Had I got lots of cash I'd go for the 1742 Guad, but heck, who in the world would be dis-satisfied with the other one under concert conditions ?? It delivers.

March 26, 2013 at 05:07 PM · I know a pro who prides herself on her ability to get a good sound out of the ghastly old Skylark she learned on at highschool. She really does sound pretty good on it!

March 26, 2013 at 07:20 PM · Kreisler was renowned for making even "Lemonese" instruments sound great. But most who have seen and heard it would say that there is a reason the "Kreisler" Guarneri was his favorite.

March 27, 2013 at 01:06 AM · very interesting. but I didn't expect it so clearly to be in favor for the Guadagnini. Its worlds apart to my ears. Par of it may be the recording condition. But I think its more than that. The Guadagnini sounds rounder, richer, clearer. I am sure the new violin isn't bad at all, but the Guadagnini: wow! that difference... cant get over it!

edit: I actually had to check this with my headphones and noticed the amount of (artificial) reverb on both performances. Hard to judge from there. And I must say the new violin shows much more quality if one listens closely... but still. Much more colours in the old one..

March 27, 2013 at 01:29 AM · Hi,

First of all, Ms. Fischer sounds great on both instruments! Thank you for posting this! The instruments are so different from each other. I don't know if it is the instruments themselves, their setups (the string setups are vastly different), but they both have a totally different response and color. The Augustin seems somewhat brighter and more of a soprano type of voice and to require a gentler touch, while the Guadagnini has a somewhat more mezzo-soprano kind of voice and seems to be up to more a more vigorous bow stroke.

That said, it is great to hear her in the same piece with two beautiful, but different voices! Thanks again Frank-Michael for posting that!

Cheers!

March 27, 2013 at 06:37 AM · Having listened again properly on headphones I would agree that the modern violin was brighter and the Guadanini more mellow. In some ways though the first performance was better, and the instrument more suited to the piece.

So much depends on set up though, and other factors, that a judgement either way is difficult.

March 27, 2013 at 09:06 AM · The modern comes across as being crisper and brighter, with the Guad a little darker and more subdued. Hard to say which would do better with an orchestra behind it, or which an audience would prefer. But you can get differences like this on the same fiddle just with different mic placement, or a different room.

March 27, 2013 at 09:24 AM · Exactly right David.

That is why live tests of the same player with several instruments in a hall with a good accoustic is so far the best test. Even then people on the listening panel disagree, as it is subjective, even with experts.

March 27, 2013 at 10:54 AM · Lyndon

No one is saying the modern is better, but that its hard to judge with the seperate studios and recording dates. players also tend to play better on one day as against the next.

I've played on a Guadanini (briefly) and I love them. But to be fair, there are some modern and contemporary violins that sound as good, if maybe a bit different.

Old instruments (150 years +?) tend to sound more mellow, but that's just my personal experience, and I've found that the older they are, the more mellow they sound. But personally I don't always go for mellow.

March 27, 2013 at 11:40 AM · "Its the modern that is subdued at forte, and thats hard to explain by mic position, brightness etc can be explained by mike position though."

Lyndon, it's impossible to know without knowing the recording path and the processing used. In that type of environment, both recording setups probably used processing like "soft limiting" to compress the volume envelope, and control distortion.

March 27, 2013 at 11:56 AM · I think we should not make a general discussion old vs new out of it. First of all the recordings are too different and the audio is clearly remastered.

Also its about two violins, wich both are of the highest quality. One is an old proven Guadagnini and the other is an excellent new instrument, wich Julia Fischer gave a chance.

If she does so, we can assume, that its a decent instrument, but still its not a representive for all modern violins. Also the Guadagnini is an unique violin and also not compareable with a strad for example.

For me the new violin sounds new in a way, that its not settled completely. Especially compared to the Guadagnini maybe. Some Stradivaris can sound very new too in the way they are very responsive and must be treated with good bowings. For me the main difference between these both violins is in the lower register (wich is the complicate one on most violins). The Guadagnini sounds so much richer and fuller on the d and g string. The Augustin has a very good bite there but not the concentrated singing voice....yet. Maybe it will develope over time with good playing and setup changes.

It would be indeed interesting to compare those violins with piano accompaniment or/and orchestra! I am sure both have their qualities. But I personally would instantly fall for the Guadagnini.

March 27, 2013 at 12:21 PM · Bit off topic here - but can anyone translate the comment after her performance on the second tape? I mean what do you say - the danger is sounding eithe fawning or inane - I would be totally intimidated, sort of, thats my schtick what do you have? Answer: nothing...

March 27, 2013 at 12:30 PM · "Its the tone that sucks at forte, not the volume I'm talking about David"

Alright, Lyndon, old instruments are superior, OK? LOL

You might have fun sometime fooling around with a good recording and editing program, different mic brands, and mic placement.

March 27, 2013 at 12:38 PM · She rocks on both fiddles and it's great to see and hear a world renowned artist actually perform on their modern instrument in a venue where her playing could potentially reach millions of ears.

March 27, 2013 at 12:40 PM · I don't think all new violins necessarily sound raw - but some might. Many sound very good after a few months of playing and maybe a new set up once they have bedded in. Don't forget Lyndon, that the old masters have had centuries to bed in and have been extensively mucked about by some very good restorers/adjusters as well as some more dubious ones.

I've played on slightly raw sounding brand new fiddles that with plenty of playing have settled down in a matter of days.

I actually heard some brand new instruments making up a string quartet the other day - and they sounded very good when the quartet played Beethoven, Brahms and other music on them. Some were 3 weeks old, some had only been finished a day or so before this test happened.

And this was the second time and the year before the instruments were as good if not better, played again but by another very good young quartet.

I think we should all keep an open mind, and remember that some people have got rid of their Strads in favour of something else.

March 27, 2013 at 12:46 PM · Another thing which comes into the equation is that a performer may not bring out the best on a certain instrument. The really great players sound really great on any decent instrument - new or old. The rest of us just have to do our best and adjust where we can. And it takes some days at least to get the best out of an instrument - how do we know how long Ms Fischer had to adjust to each instrument?

Perhaps we could have more information about such things - it can make a difference.

March 27, 2013 at 12:55 PM · Lyndon, I appreciate your efforts to save me some work by posting my opinions for me, but for the sake of accuracy, it would be best if they came directly from me. ;-)

I haven't expressed an opinion on which violin I think is better, nor do I have one. Perhaps I would, if I heard them under identical conditions.

I'm qualified to make a living a variety of ways in the fiddle trade, so your assertion that I have a financial stake in pushing contemporary instruments is quite weak. Nor am I hurtin' for business (knock on wood).

March 27, 2013 at 01:07 PM · Yes, both instruments are hers. And she uses both on international tours as well as during "normal" recitals and concerts. The message I see in these two performances is very comforting: You do not need a fortune to make a living on violin playing, whatever luthiers and violin shops keep telling you.

One may of course use instruments (or paintings or sculptures) as investment opportunity. Even as a kind of personal pension fund. But this has nothing to do with your professional chances.

Julia's first full size violin she used when winning the Menuhin competition in 1995 had a price tag of pretty well below 30,000£.

FMF

March 27, 2013 at 01:45 PM · I think instruments choice is a matter of taste and playing style. While one can be totally happy with a good new violin another is looking for something he cannot find in new violins yet. I think while we should not overestimate the aging process of a violin we should also not ignore it.

I played many new and old violins and the old ones always sound "different". There is a red line, but it has not much to do with quality.

A big part of the mystery of old violins is, that some of them were build before the actual music, wich is played today was written. So the tools have been made so perfect that the music could expand. I heard a interview of kavakos stating about the fact, that this old makers had an Idea of sound, wich actually developed from there. But the idea still works with their violins. Like Prophecy. Everything is possible on a good strad. Also standing against an modern symphony orchestra. How is that possible, if the makers back then didn't know about the developement of temperament, woodwinds and brass? Only for that fact, that the violin hasn't changed significantly since then we should praise the old violin makers.

Are there any videos of similar comparisons? Also I like to compare just modern violins, since its the material I could possibly afford...

March 27, 2013 at 02:43 PM · **...the wheels on the bus go round and round...**

Now I can't get THAT out of my head. Oliver Sacks calls it an earworm...;)

March 27, 2013 at 02:50 PM · I auditioned many antique fiddles in my price range over two or so years as well a few new or fairly new instruments. In the end one antique instrument grabbed me and it would have been a serious contender. But then I (during the same session) tried another contemporary instrument that was approximately 16+ years old, made in 1995. Although it was more temperamental and less easy to play, I realised it had great potential, and a really big sound. In the end that was the instrument I bought - because after a few weeks it sounded pretty wonderful - and had a big sound with lots of potential.

But I was open to all in my price range, some which were quite old - mid to late 1700's if I remember correctly - and some which were brand new - and some that were 100-150 years old.

March 27, 2013 at 03:51 PM · this is really silly. I don't think that anybody here sais new is better than old or the other way around. Everyone who knows something about violins knows that there are great, maybe unsurpassed old violins and great maybe in few hundred years unsurpassed new violins.

Tonewise I think that many old violins have a special character, wich is hard to find innew violins. Still there are new violins, who have that sort of character and depth, but they are as rare as the old ones.

March 27, 2013 at 04:48 PM · "Its a common misconception of these blind studies that people like David are trying to promote...."

Lyndon, thanks once again for trying to help me out, but I'd still rather generate my own opinions, than have you generate them for me, and then hand them to me.

When I'm dead though, and no longer capable of generating or expressing my own beleifs, I'll be sure to give you a call and ask for your help, OK? :-)

March 27, 2013 at 07:06 PM · FMF - do you remember if she used that violin for her Eurovision Havanaise in '96? (The first time I heard her)

March 27, 2013 at 07:08 PM · Which that? No, none of the two shown here.

FMF

March 27, 2013 at 07:22 PM · I was wondering if it was the same as in the Menuhin competition. :)

March 27, 2013 at 09:19 PM · I'm not sure how it is known which violins Julia Fischer - a wonderful violinist - was playing. Was it mentioned in German, in the course of the interviews?

Anyway, assuming this info is correct, we have here the same violinist playing the same excerpt on two different violins - which is a very good start. However, she played them in two different studios, with two different miking systems, and whatever other different approaches were used to bring them onto youtube. To be fair to performer, listeners and instruments alike, it's important to keep this in mind. So under the circumstances, I felt that the modern violin was brighter and clear - until she played more forte where it tended to sound compressed - at least with the miking, etc. The Guad sounded darker, mellower and more colorful. But it would be an interesting test to see which would cut through better against a piano in a heavy-duty sonata or in a concerto with orchestra.

In these constraining listening circumstances, my preference is for THIS Guad over THIS modern. That captilization is so as not to imply any generalities. There are any number of moderns that sound better than any number of Guads, and any number of Guads that sound better than any number of moderns. Lest anybody try to put words in MY mouth, I love both fine old AND fine new violins, have never said otherwise and am nobody's salesman or official representative. My own overall favorite violin, anno 2010, bested a Strad at an auction showing - not just my opinion, but the opinion of two other disinterested professionals. On another occasion it bested a Guad which was on a long-term loan to an excellent violinist. It was HE, not I who played on both, and obviously, he was used to the Guad and not mine. And yet, again not only in my opinion, mine sounded even better. On the other hand for me, possibly the most beautiful violin I've tried so far was an Amati at another auction showing.

March 27, 2013 at 11:42 PM · "I'm not sure how it is known which violins Julia Fischer - a wonderful violinist - was playing. Was it mentioned in German, in the course of the interviews?"

I think Frank-Michael Fischer might have some inside info on the fiddles.

March 28, 2013 at 12:50 AM · Any relation?

March 28, 2013 at 03:53 AM · to Raphael: "I'm not sure how it is known which violins Julia Fischer - a wonderful violinist - was playing. Was it mentioned in German, in the course of the interviews?"

As far as I can remember it is known because of my post. Or am I not getting a point here?

FMF

March 28, 2013 at 04:53 AM · Raphaele - FMF is her proud father :)

March 28, 2013 at 06:38 AM · Nice post. I think most of the angles of the comparison has been looked at and discussed up until this point. To be quite PC about the comparisons, I preferred the recording quality of the 3rd link, which was definitely miked differently than the video of the 2nd link. The impression I got from the two was that the 1st youtube video of the Kreisler had a more cutting, drier, and strong tone. The 2nd youtube video being full, robust, round, with nice contour; which is tone quality I prefer.

There really is no way of telling how the two instruments actually compare to each other unless compared with the same mic set-up played back to back at the same space interval. Even then that would be only a single mic set-up that may favor one instrument over the other. So much could be done with miking placement and room acoustics that makes the comparison more of a comparison of miking conditions. Despite all of the variables, I have tried this recording method of comparison for myself and students with fairly accurate success as one of many direct methods of comparison deciding on instruments in their respective set-ups by recording instruments back to back at the same miking intervals in the same environment with varying excerpts of the same repertoire. It makes me wonder if the wonderful James Ehnes Homage CD was recorded with the same mics and placement.

I have been astonished how different my own instrument can sound after working with different mikes (Neumanns to akg to audio technicas, etc) and rooms with various bounce-back sound reflections (studios, churches, halls, etc.) It actually makes me appreciate what kind of magic a good recording engineer can pull off with those combinations!

It must have felt awkward for Julia to perform with everyone breathing down her throat from all sides from that 2nd youtube link. I relate to that awkwardness having performed a piece once at a unique gig on a fashion show catwalk with audience very close and around at all angles! And no, I wasn't wearing drag. Just a simple suit.

March 28, 2013 at 07:23 AM · hi David (Burgess);

although the recordings might be totally different, i feel that part of the sound characters of these violins do get through to us, don't you think?

perhaps not so much in a direct comparison :violin A to violin B. but to the the comparitive consistency within one recorded performance relative to the other: various relational aspects of violin A (consistency (or lack thereof) of tone on G, D, A, E + reaction to forte/speed..etc in violin A) in relation to the same various relational aspects on violin B. does that make sense? because as much as you make sense in your criticism, people are not hestitant to note that they have distinct feelings towards the different characters of the violins.

but in other aspects, say how it would perform in a large concern hall, i can totally understand that there is no way of knowing how one is superior to the other based on these recordings.

March 28, 2013 at 08:54 AM · James Ehnes has just written a very interesting article about this topic in the Huffington Post.

Well worth a read.

March 28, 2013 at 09:49 AM · Tammuz, I pretty much agree with Thomas Yee.

A little background:

I've done a lot of recording to compare sound. Some of this took place at Oberlin College, when we had people like Rene Morel teaching sound adjustments. We would record the entire adjustment sequence, which might involve ten different steps or adjustments, and span quite a bit of time. Recording allowed us to review the adjustment sequence repeatedly, and get a better idea of what changes produced what results. We could also take any two stages in the adjustment, cut and paste them back-to-back into a repeating loop, which is really effective for helping to pick out subtle differences.

We also used it to help compare different instruments.

One year, we had a professional recording engineer come in to teach.

What's interesting about all this is that a room change, a mic change, a mic position change, a player position change, or a recording equipment or settings change, any one of these can make a particular violin sound like a completely different instrument. Even the balance of an instrument can change in different rooms, because resonances in a room will enhance or diminish various frequencies from the violin.

For accurate comparison purposes, we had to keep everything the same, including marking the position and direction of the player's feet on the floor!

I know some of this is hard to believe, until you've experimented with it a bit, and experienced it first-hand.

So maybe the two recordings give a decent picture of the differences between the two violins, or maybe not. While we can clearly hear differences, and have opinions about the differences, it's hard to know what to attribute them to. We could probably learn the most about how the violins compare by getting Julia's feedback.

These are also things to keep in mind if you're attempting to shop for an instrument by comparing sound clips from various sellers websites. I happen to think that's next-to-worthless, but maybe it's better than nothing.

By the way, I don't have any bias regarding either instrument. I love and enjoy GOOD INSTRUMENTS, both old and new, and have worked on and played on plenty of both.

March 28, 2013 at 10:04 AM · OK, Mattias and FMF, I was suspecting as much! So, FMF, can you tell us, does Julia have and use other violins as well, and does she have preferences as to which she uses when? Does it depend on the acoustical situation, or the choice of repertoire, or on any other factors? What about bows and violin/bow combo preferences? Did she use the same bow for both violins in the Kreisler? That can aslo affect the sound.

And slightly off topic - how in the world does Julia manage to keep up her high-level piano skills while maintaing such a busy schedule with her top-notch violin skills and globe-trotting career? It's amazing to me!

March 28, 2013 at 10:40 AM · David B's last post makes sense to me. I've also carried out a lot of recording with violins, violas, cellos and pianos.

I've made many tests of my own violins in the last couple of years using different mics and measuring distances and using the same accoustics (i.e. room) as well as set up and strings - and bow too!

I've also taken my fiddle to a studio where I've been recorded using several different mics (all fairly good ones) and I've brought the sound files home to compare.

For example, two equally good sounding violins with almost similar tone - but one with a bigger sound, or a more projecting sound - can be made to sound equally as big and projecting, simply by increasing the gain on the peamp by a notch or two on the quieter one. This is something sound engineers do. Bring the levels up to the required recording level, such as -10dB. Even an adjustment of only 3-6 dB can make them sound equal.

There are very few recordings made (unfortunately) these days that do not have some form of processing or manipulation made, post recording, or if live, as its happening, and I've worked in enough TV studios to know that TV sound engineers are usually not very good. (They really only care about the picture, and any old sound will do).

So comparisons like the one we have witnessed, although interesting and entertaining, are really of little value in assessing instruments.

March 28, 2013 at 03:10 PM ·

March 31, 2013 at 06:40 AM ·

April 1, 2013 at 07:17 PM · "Its the tone that sucks at forte, not the volume I'm talking about David"

Absolutely. That's often the big problem with new fiddles: their tone sucks at full volume. And even if the audience doesn't mind, it's the player that has to put up with it.

April 2, 2013 at 11:47 AM · Here we have a fresh (on YouTube) example for her Guadagnini, a live performance of the Sibelius concerto,

FMF

April 4, 2013 at 08:52 PM · Deleted

April 4, 2013 at 09:11 PM · I love Julia Fischers Sibelius. I heard one recording before on YT and it was just one of the best I ever heard and I heard a lot!

April 7, 2013 at 08:39 AM · It's very bad when Henryk takes advantage of such beautiful young ladies, John. I think you should have a word with him about such inapropriate behaviour. It would never have happened in my day.

April 7, 2013 at 10:45 AM · Here you'll find a recent "photographic" interview with Julia Fischer:

http://bit.ly/14OwWzz

FMF

April 8, 2013 at 01:51 PM · Just in case, here is quite a bit more of Julia Fischer dealing with her instrument in video:

http://bit.ly/ZhWoFR

FMF

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