Scottish Fantasy Recordings

September 7, 2013 at 03:35 AM · Which recording, if any, of Bruch's Scottish Fantasy would you consider the definitive recording?

Replies (42)

September 7, 2013 at 12:56 PM · There are many fine recordings. But if any can be called definitive, it's HEIFETZ. The brilliance, the beauty, the flair, style and panache, the - what Isaac Stern called his "constant flow of polished fire" - it's all there and more in the Scottish Fantasy.

September 7, 2013 at 01:13 PM · For a most lyrical version:

Cho-Liang Lin

September 7, 2013 at 01:40 PM · Michael Rabin has a spectacular performance.

September 7, 2013 at 02:18 PM · I am with Raphael on Heifetz. I have heard that it was Heifetz's favorite to play.

September 9, 2013 at 12:55 PM · Heifetz's rendition is thrilling. Despite the recording date of 1961, he sounds like an impish teenager! (That's a good thing for this piece.) A shame about the cuts though.

Rabin's recording is lovely, as is Perlman's.

I heard Ehnes play this piece live a few years ago. Stunning and gorgeous and utterly perfect. I haven't bought his CD yet though; still stuck on the wish list...

September 9, 2013 at 02:01 PM · I don't think there is a definitive recording but one that should not be overlooked is the wonderful performance of Alfredo Campoli with the London Philharmonic under Sir Adrian Boult dating from 1959. The great violist, Lionel Tertis, wrote of Campoli's performance of this work: "Among the numerous times I have heard this wonderful work, so full of lyrical moments that stir one to the depths, this performance of Campoli's was certainly the best I have ever heard."

September 9, 2013 at 07:48 PM · Grumiaux and Chung have recorded fine performances too.

September 9, 2013 at 08:46 PM · I like the Heifetz cuts, and if I ever got a chance to perform this, I'd make the same or similar cuts in the last movement. It's too repetitive, too repetitive, too -

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September 9, 2013 at 10:10 PM · I agree Raphael with you on the cuts. I did use them in the last movement when I performed it. They make the piece I think flow better with less repetition (kind of like the Auer cuts in the Tchaikovsky). Heifetz did one in the 3rd movement for his later performance with the Orchestre de Paris which I don't do.

Great seeing you a few weeks ago BTW!!

Heifetz's recording is obviously great and monumental for this work. Another excellent alternative to the Heifetz recording is Aaron Rosand's. He has also performed this piece many times in recital as well with piano.

September 10, 2013 at 01:20 AM · Hi Nate. Thanks, and likewise. I envy you your opportunity to perform the Scottish Fantasy. I'm sure you did a great job!

You know how I feel about Aaron Rosand - one of my all time favorites and a violinistic hero of mine. And, I'm proud to say, one of my teachers. He has his own style and panache that he brings to everything he plays, along with a brilliant virtuoso technique and gorgeous tone. In works ranging from the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky to the Glazanov, and snippets I've heard of Prokofiev 2nd and Walton, to slightly more off the beaten trail fare such as the Bruch 2nd and Sinding Suite, Rosand for me is a viable alternative to 'the Great H'. Yet, somehow for me, believe it or not, when it comes to the Scottish Fantasy, even Rosand sounds a bit earth-bound compared to Heifetz.

September 10, 2013 at 02:07 AM · I wish Menuhin recorded it in the 30s...! Maybe there is some live broadcast somewhere??

September 10, 2013 at 08:02 AM · There's no such thing, but if you want something definitely great, the Oistrakh recording is a must listen, and if possible, a must have-even if one already may like the Heifetz, Rabin, and other classic ones. It is very possibly my favorite-the ending never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

September 11, 2013 at 12:03 AM · Last night I sampled the start of the Fanatasy on Youtube by Oistrakh, Anne Akiko Myers, and Janine Jansen, but couldn't wait to get to "my" definitive recording of Heifetz. However, I do intend to go back and listen to all of the Oistrakh and will see if Grumiaux - another overall favorite of mine - can be found.

While still holding to what I originally said re Heifetz, on the whole concept of a "definitive" interpretation, I'm minded of something another major violinist, Ivry Gitlis said. He said (and I paraphrase as best I remember) that if you say that there is one definitive interpretation of any piece, you are limiting the piece and its composer, and impoverishing music, generally.

September 11, 2013 at 01:27 AM · Raphael - I agree with you that the labeling of an interpretation as "definitive" can impoverish the piece and composer. However, I make one type of exception, and it only really works for more recent pieces. If the composer of the piece plays it himself, e.g., Rachmaninoff playing his piano music, assuming the composer is a virtuoso, I would consider that recording "definitive" in the sense that the composer has given you the piece in the manner in which he conceives it. Another example would be someone like Bernstein or Elgar conducting music he wrote. Menuhin's performance of Elgar's concerto under Elgar's direction would have to be considered "definitive" since Elgar presumably was able to have the piece sound as he conceived it. This is not to say that another musician's interpretation could not be interesting or worthwhile. Indeed, Rachmaninoff said that he preferred Horowitz's playing of his 3rd concerto to his own. But, I would ultimately look to the composer's playing/conducting of his own piece to set the standard. With Bruch, of course, this is not an issue.

September 11, 2013 at 02:53 AM · Good point, Tom. And yet even there, a composer is an interpreter of his own music, and can change his mind about it.

There is a story about Beethoven when writing one of his piano sonatas. Notoriously messy in his living habits, and even chaotic, he lost his manuscript to the 1st movement that he very recently completed. With it fresh in his mind, he reconstructed it. Then, after all that effort he found his first draft! Comparing the two versions, he was pleased to see how he had reconstructed all of it. But then he noticed his metronome markings and saw that the respective drafts were at major variance. He then got very angry at himself for his first tempo marking and couldn't understand how he could possibly have come up with such an erroneous conception.

And speaking of tempo and Rachmanninov, R. was set to play one of his own concertos with the Philadelphia and Ormandy. At the first rehearsal he took certain tempos and at the dress rehearsal took some very different tempos. After that rehearsal Ormandy asked him what tempos he could expect at the concert. Replied R. "I have no idea. Take my pulse right before I go on."

So even with their own works, composers' conceptions are not set in stone - and in more than just in matters of tempo. Composers have often revised their works. So is say Copland playing his own violin sonata with Isaac Stern definitive? Well certainly it gives us a very good idea about how he felt at the time. But for all time? I don't think most composers would want us to think so.

September 11, 2013 at 04:09 AM · Wait to hear Nicola Benedetti. I bet it will be the best of all!

September 11, 2013 at 01:52 PM · Raphael - I love the Rachmaninoff story. If I recall correctly, Beethoven was frequently displeased with whatever metronome markings he put down, and I have read that he would be listening to someone else conducting/playing his piece, complain about the speed, be told that it reflected his metronome indication, and get all huffy.

September 12, 2013 at 01:26 AM · Just listened to Grumiaux's Fanatsy - and indeed, it is really beautiful!

Now I just came across something by Bruch I'd never even heard of - the Serenade for violin and orchestra. It's a full-length piece like a concerto. I'm listening to it as I type this. Salnatore Accardo is the excellent soloist. He has also championed the Bruch 3rd concerto, which I must admit, I haven't really gotten into yet as a listener. I grew up with the iconic Heifetz recording of #2, which I've taught to myself, and I almost like Rosand's rendition better - or certainly as much as the great H. And the Bruch wonderful Romance in A minor is a must hear. Rosand recorded it with a bunch of other romances by various composers.

Bruch was quite generous to us violinists! No wonder he got exasperated with everyone only playing his 1st concerto - and that was way back when. The more things change...

September 13, 2013 at 12:18 AM · I think one Scottish fantasy is that the work sounds best played on bagpipes.

September 13, 2013 at 02:04 PM · My top three favorite recordings have to be Rachel Barton-Pine, Grumiaux, and Rabin in no particular order. Barton-Pine's recording is interesting as she adds ornamentations that are stylistically appropriate for Scottish folk tunes.

As for a recording of Menuhin from the 30's there is one of him from 1931, when he was 15 -

September 14, 2013 at 12:38 PM · Speaking of bagpipes, I once served as Concertmaster for an off, off, off, Broadway production of "Brigadoon" - a musical about a mysterious town in Scotland that periodically appears and disappears. Now THERE is a Scottish fantasy!

At one performance I brought 2 guests - one of whom was my mother, who is inordinately proud of me. At intermission I asked my guests how they were enjoying the show so far. One praised the bagpipe player who briefly appeared on stage; the other liked the sets. Even my dear Mum didn't seem to notice me or my colleagues! In some frustration, but trying to keep in character, I summoned my best Scottish brogue and said: "dee ya not hearrrrr the band at alll?" "Oh right", said they "you guys were good, too."

So I think the moral of the story is that just as children and animals have upstaged some of the best actors, bagpipes will upstage other instruments!

September 14, 2013 at 01:20 PM · When I saw Brigadoon, it was a high school production (not my school, but one where a friend and collaborator of my father's, Percy Arnell taught music), which I didn't think at the time was off off off. My memory is to hazy to recall whether actual bagpipes were played.

September 14, 2013 at 01:27 PM · By the way, if any of you can get hold of the "Classic FM" self-advertisement in which a Scottish voice says "There are hundreds of recordings of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and ... quite frankly ... some of them are better than others", listen to it - It's priceless! (My "humour" isn't always 100% original, and in my first entry above I should perhaps have mentioned accompaniment by a baying dog)

September 14, 2013 at 04:30 PM · My humor needs to be original now, as my writers are still on vacation. Winging it as best I can!

September 14, 2013 at 08:31 PM · Campoli, Chung, Lin in the chronological order.. and NO to Heifetz

September 14, 2013 at 08:52 PM · THAT's one in the eye for the Scotties! First, Bruch gets the tune of Scots Wha Hae so badly wrong, and now the top prize for playing it goes to a "SASSENACH"!

September 15, 2013 at 01:06 PM · No to Heifetz, huh? That's like saying no to sunshine. So many of the acknowledged kings of the violin have acknowledged Heifetz as their emperor, including a short list of Szerying (who literally called him "The Emperor") Perlman (who called him the "God of the violin") Stern (v. above) Rosand (who called him "probably the greatest master of them all") - the list goes on and on. And here he is playing one of his favorite pieces like it was written for him, but a simple unexplained "no" from somebody is sufficient? I don't think so.

I know, "de gustabus non disputatum est" (There is no arguing about taste.) But as one of my former teachers liked to say - "but I have a good ear"!

I couldn't find Lin. Chung, whom I normally admire a lot was actually a slight disappointment in the live performance I found - the tone seemed strained, and the phrasing lacked the fire on one hand or the elegance on the other - but we need to often make allowances for sound quality on Youtube. And as a professional violinist and erstwhile soloist, I know how hard it is to get out there and deliver even something "easy", and I try to be careful in my criticisms. I was impressed by Campoli and plan to listen to more of him. But in his tempo choices and some phrasings and nuances, the Heifetz influence on him is obvious - and understandable.

September 18, 2013 at 11:40 PM · Ha, an opinion police in a passive-aggressive garb who won't allow a single dissent.. Let's just say, it is my loss, who remains sunless, oblivious, obscure, with deafness on both ears.. and somehow still content.

Reading the blah-blah, I recalled "an empty can is noisier." I am not quite certain if the phrase has anything to do with this situation, but I am just saying it did cross my mind.

Good day, Archangel! Good life, even..

September 19, 2013 at 12:20 AM · Greetings,

I sympathize and empathize with both of you. However, with all due respect to Choi who has an absolute right to his opinion iirrespective of any one else, that wan't quite the issue under discussion. It was not 'which performance of blah' do you like, in which case 'this version offends my ears,', is perfectly valid.

The question uses the word definitive. Perhaps we should avoid applying the term to any one single violinist and consider what are probably the top three or four. These would perhaps be understood in terms of both technical and musical excellence. In order to belong in this group the player in question has to exhibit both of these qualities to the nth degree. That being the case, irrespective of whether or not one likes the Heifetz sound can one objectively argue that there are technical issues, that it is lacking in musicianship or tonally lacking. Technique is a nonissue. How one defines musicianship is tricky but any number of players from the ones Raphael cited to regular pros to amateurs would not be able to give merit to the suggestion that Heifetz was not 'musical.'.'

There have been superlative technicians who are not musical over the years. Generally speaking they are easy to recognize and never quite archieve the deep and lasting fame of the upper echelon soloists. Is the recording tonally deficient? That is not really answerable by opinion but by the enduring fame of Heifetz in the 20c. Is it really possible that someone with a defective tone could have been as respectd by the greats and so many others during his career. That does not seem likely.

So when all is said and done I have to agree with Raphael that not only is this recording as definitive as the other great one s mentioned, it continues to be the al time favorite of so many performers and lay listeners with good reason.



September 19, 2013 at 01:13 AM · Raphael, Heifetz and Campoli were born only 5 years apart and lived on different continents. Neither of them contributed to, because the internet wasn't around in their lifetime. Wouldn't Campoli have been well advanced in his career before he ever heard even a recording of Heifetz? How sure are you of your statement about Heifetz's influence on Campoli?

September 19, 2013 at 01:23 AM · I had lessons with Campoli and he was a close friend. He told me that in his early years Heifetz was his idol. Later in life his tastes changed and he said he admired Szigeti, Grumiaux and Kreisler above all.

September 19, 2013 at 01:34 AM · Greetings,

-Raphael, Heifetz and Campoli were born only 5 years apart and lived on different continents.

That news comes as something of a shock......


September 19, 2013 at 12:08 PM · Ron - thanks for making the actual connection that I had merely intuited! Even contemporaries can be a strong influence on one another; they needn't be a generation apart. That was certainly the case with Heifetz and his influence on so many of his contemporaries.

Sam - well, I've been called worse things than an archangel! But in interests of full disclosure, I was only named after one! (Yes, I know that will come as a shock to all!) This is a free website - up to a point - and we're all entitled to our respective opinions, and as I said 'de gustabus' etc. But what informs our opinions? I invite anyone to look at our respective profiles, and decide. I'd say my can is pretty full. And how are our opinions expressed? Are reasons given for them, or do we seemingly drop them as fiats from heaven? It's easy to be dismissive. It's easy to say 'no'. It's one thing to say that somehow, H. doesn't quite reach me personally here. But just "no", delivered like a papal bull? And when an un-substantiated 'no' refers to the single most powerful violinistic influence since Paganini - like it or not - yes, that will ruffle my angelic feathers a bit. And as Buri said, the question was about "definitive", to the extent that anything or anyone can be.

September 19, 2013 at 12:46 PM · Ron, how much opportunity would you say he would have had to really imbibe from his idol?

September 19, 2013 at 02:11 PM · John, this is a little difficult for me to answer now. Alfredo died in 1991 and Mrs. Campoli, whom I kept in touch with, died three years ago. I know that Alfredo had heard Heifetz live and I assume he also had his recordings. He did tell me that Heifetz once attended one of his concerts and came backstage to congratulate him. He certainly spoke as if he was well acquainted with Heifetz' artistry.

September 20, 2013 at 05:13 PM · Well, apparently my blessing didn't work. In the meantime my recalled phrase has become more relevent.

Is your ego clouding your judgment, you know who? I thought the thread here is not about which participant has more prominent profile (by the way, in my head mine is huge, just like yours in your head, maybe more so) and the one who's got the biggest crams his/her opinion on others' throats, but about each who inclines so gives certain recordings a chance and decides him(her)self what would be definitive or favorite, whatever. I believe in each individual's ability to discern for themselves when equipped with an open mind. And there is no right or wrong answer, and majority is not right or minority, even a sole voice is not wrong in this kind of issue. Just diverse opinions. So SPEAK OUT YOUR MIND, FOLKS!

And yes, your resume is full. I already knew that. But the question is 'full of what?' In my book, rather than credentials, something like insight, wisdom count. So let's see how you fare.

I detect you haven't listened to Campoli that much. Still you were able to come up with Heifetz's influence on his playing, when actually their styles, temperaments were vast apart. Yes, that is some special insight of yours. It is like saying Jordan influenced LeBron's playing style.

The fact that you've never heard the particular recordings of Lin and Chung instantly disqualifies you from saying anything substantial, beside speculation, on those recordings. Yet you still offered your cent and a half.

I always have doubt towards the classical musicians who babble too much and too often on social networking sites of their seriousness in their calling. You account for about 30% of the replies on this thread alone, meddling in every chance. Also is it wise to get into argument with someone you perceive as sunless nobody with deafness on an opinion issue? I hope your professional life is not that empty and you have better things, more important things to do.

He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know. Lao Tzu

I already spoke too much. I am done talking in this thread.

I am sending a bigger blessing this time, hoping it works this time. GOOD LIFE, ARCHANGEL!!!

September 22, 2013 at 02:03 PM · A few points - and then this will be MY last posting on this particular thread:

1. It's true that I haven't been familiar with recordings of Campoli. He was more of a name to me in the books. I'm actually very glad that his name came up. I've subsequently listened to a number of his recordings and have really enjoyed his playing! When it comes to Chung, I have indeed been familiar with a lot of her work for a long time, and have greatly admired her. And I did listen to her Fantasy.

2. Nevertheless, the above, though I wanted to clear that up, is not all that relevant. While our threads often go far afield in the course of many posts - often amusingly so - it is sometimes good to keep the original subject in mind. A while back, a thread came up about which relatively obscure or neglected violinists we thought deserved more attention - or words to that effect. It's true that there is sometimes a fuzzy line there. But after a while, people just started naming violinists they liked, who were quite famous. There, maybe more than in some other posts, the original premise mattered - and it does here, too.

The OP - aren't you glad you asked, OP? ;-) - asked about a DEFINITIVE recording of the Bruch Scottish Fantasy, NOT which recordings we happened to like or not like. Some of us bandied about the question of whether any interpretation could be absolutely definitive, but we tried to stay on course.

Imagine if there were - and maybe there is - a baseball site analogous to Let's say the question came up as to which single baseball player active in the 1920's to early '30's most clearly defined the game. Now I know precious little about baseball, but let's say that the name Babe Ruth came up prominently. Let's say that a few of the posters were actually professional baseball players, and others, professional sports writers - and most of those folks particularly stressed Babe Ruth. Then let's say that I came along and mentioned a couple of other players that I liked, and ended with “and no to Ruth” without any explanation. But I have a right to my opinion, don't I? After all, maybe I've been a fan of the game for 50 years. Yes, I have a right to my opinion. And others have a right to challenge that opinion. Is that challenge simply coming from not being able to bear dissent? And is one's background really irrelevant in this situation? Is it just ego?

One more analogy closer to home: let's say that the question came up on about which single violin maker has been most influential or definitive to future generations. Let's say that the name, Stradivari, came up a lot. And let's say that some of those opinions came from professional violin makers, dealers, appraisers, etc. But then, let's imagine that someone, whose only claim to fame was that he's always loved violins, mentioned say, Maggini, Amati – and "no to Stradivari”. I can just imagine the reaction from some of the pros. Only ego? Or just maybe a desire to share arduously acquired knowledge and insight?

Yes, we're all entitled to our opinions. But I know that if I really were a baseball fan, and found a site like the one I imagined, I just might give a little credence, and grant a little more respect, to what the pros had to say – particularly if they took the trouble to give reasons, and seemed really interested in sharing their knowledge. And I wouldn't be so quick to counter-attack a pro's opinion that challenged mine - especially not with personal barbs incredibly masking as "blessings". Other pros from have occasionally commiserated with me in private corespondence about this sort of thing. Many others over the years, both known posters and lurkers, have expressed to me appreciation for my many posts, and have been kind enough to thank me because they said that they learned a lot from me. Of course I don't bat 1000%. But as Heifetz once said after a recital: "For those who liked it, thanks. For those who didn't, hope to catch you next time!"

So yes, everyone opine. It really IS your right. But has anyone noticed how fewer and fewer pros have been regularly posting on Is that what you want? And I hope that people will notice that in my original counter-dissent to Sam's dissent, I took strong issue only with his opinion; I didn't attack HIM. But then look at Sam's next and subsequent posts. Who has really been "passive aggressive" here? Who twice compared whom to "an empty can"?

I suppose that the saying attributed to Lao-Tzu could be applied to all of us to an extent, sometimes. So I'll end by horribly mis-quoting John Donne:

Therefore send not to know

from whom the empty can rattles

It rattles from Thee!

September 23, 2013 at 10:47 AM · Tom et al., two brief points about composers' recordings of their own works being definitive:

1. History tells us that Elgar's rehearsal time with Menuhin was short, because he wanted to get to the races. It may be that he would have scoffed at the very idea of definitive performance - and should modern orchestras reproduce the crudely executed portamenti used in the Elgar-conducted recording of the Enigma?

2. Chopin, one would think a definitive performer of his own music if ever there were at least five (others including Mozart, Paganini, Liszt and Kreisler), was heard to say that that he could do with some lessons from Liszt on how to play his own études.

September 26, 2013 at 10:06 AM · I'd be hard-pressed to classify any performance of this work as *definitive*, but I do think that there are three that are especially *distinctive*:

- Heifetz, for bringing a brilliance of clarity and motion to a work that can be kind of maudlin

- Campoli, for sheer charm

- Rachel Barton-Pine, for the Alasdair Fraser-influenced Scottish ornamentation

September 30, 2013 at 04:08 PM · I agree with the guy who said his favorite was the Oistrakh. Interpretation, timing, passion, warmth, all things subjective, make it my hands-down favorite. As for the Heifetz version, this is my feeling that I am entitled-to: I do not like the tempos or his hummingbird vibrato. Prove me wrong! ;-}

September 30, 2013 at 09:40 PM · When Heifetz was at his best,he could turn a simple composition into a masterpiece. His recording of the SF in 1961 is a prime example.I`ve heard that he was very proud of this recording;and he had every right to be.

June 29, 2014 at 03:22 AM · The time has come to hear Nicola playing it:

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