Great Violinists of the Bell Telephone Hour

January 19, 2005 at 07:53 AM · I have just got hold of the DVD 'Great Violinists of the Bell Telephone Hour' (a Christmas present from my wife). It's wonderful! Lots of colour footage of greats such as Michael Rabin, Menuhin, Ricci, David and Igor Oistrakh, Erica Morini etc, and all from the years 1959 -1964.

A wonderful record of these people at their respective peaks. I particularly enjoy Rabin playing the Tchaikovsky and the Oistrakh duo playing the Bach double. I recommend this DVD most highly.

Replies (54)

January 19, 2005 at 03:18 PM · I second that. This DVD entirely rocks! (Except for a few missteps in Menuhin's Paganini 1 double stop harmonics, but whaddya want, it's a live recording.) I also love Rabin's version of the Tchaik finale. That is probably the best version I have heard (and it's one of my favorite pieces).

January 20, 2005 at 01:47 AM · Yep - it's truely a mad DVD - the Oistrakh's are divine as always

January 20, 2005 at 01:56 AM · This is truly a wonderful DVD to have. I especially enjoy Michael Rabin's playing on this video. I hadn't ever seen him play until watching this. The Kreisler pieces he played were spectacular.

January 21, 2005 at 08:04 PM · Nate,

You are exactly right. Michael Rabin's playing is absolutely unbelievable. What a tragedy for the violin world he died so young.

January 22, 2005 at 07:52 AM · An absolutely fascinating DVD which gives rise to countless points of discussion.I have used it in a seminar to study the differences in technique,vibrato,bow hold etc.I am probably on my own here but I thought Rabin had a tortured face and he didn't give me the impression that he was enjoying playing.

January 25, 2005 at 08:00 PM · I'm glad they put out this dvd. These guys are the best. Modern violinists are such a waste of time to listen to.

January 25, 2005 at 08:26 PM · hey I love modern violinists escpecially perlman zukerman mintz chung hahn and ehnes

January 25, 2005 at 10:50 PM · Scott P,

Why do you think that? There are great and not-quite-as-great players in every generation. :)


January 25, 2005 at 10:58 PM · hahn's the only modern violinist on that list...and yea she is definitely spectacular

January 26, 2005 at 01:43 AM · I think modern in this case means someone who's not dead. I personally didn't like this DVD that much. The only performance I thought really worth it was Stern's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso which i thought was done beautifully. Everything else to me was just like "eh".

January 26, 2005 at 11:09 AM · I'm getting somewhat paranoid that every one of my posts is getting a demerit!


January 26, 2005 at 04:43 PM · I like the DVD very much overall. I could do without the performances of Elman and Menuhin, both past their prime at this point (compare the Menuhin with the late forties footage in the first part of "The Art of Violin" DVD). I think everyone else is great on here, especially Rabin.

January 26, 2005 at 06:49 PM · Rabin was a very great player, America's answer to Leonid Kogan. Whereas Kogan's playing was muscular and powerful, Rabin's was sweet and tender. Rabin's Glazounov is my favourite.

By the way, Rabin appears quite tall in those clips, perhaps well over 1.8 m (6 feet). I had not realised that he was a tall man (I thought him about average in height).

Indeed, his early death was most tragic, and a great loss to the world of music. Luckily, he left some wonderful recordings behind.

Agree that Menuhin and Elman are past their best in this DVD. I guess that we must remember them as they were in their primes.

April 20, 2005 at 04:00 PM · Great Violinists of the Bell Telephone Hour DVD.

I just finished watching it. A few of the violinists on this DVD were very professional --

Isaac Stern and Zino Francescatti were "on". Their

performances were excellent enough to have been

last 'takes' in studio. They were both at top

form in this video even though Zino was 18 years older than Isaac. Ruggiero Ricci also played

great in the finale of the Tchaikovsky, so relaxed

he barely broke a sweat. His rhythm was sharp and

he was in total command. I've seen and heard Rabin

do much better than here. His bow seems to have been dipped in oil before he played. It couldn't

grip the string and slid off a few times and the

dropped sound seemed to have bothered him. Yehudi's performance in the Paganini Concerto was absolutely embarrassing and I believe

he was embarrassed, too. He looked quite apologetic as he finished. I'm sure he wanted to slink off but there was nowhere to hide. Gratefully we faded to black. Zino Francescatti

was much older than Yehudi, so age is no excuse. Menuhin just never kept himself in top performance shape after the 1930's and he should have declined the invitation to appear on Bell. Elman was absolutely terrible. His violin was tuned too flat and nearly every note he played was flat in the Wieniawski. In the Kreisler chestnut, Schon Rosmarin, I thought he might fare better. He started out OK and then his rhythm in triplets -- well-- I don't know WHAT he was trying to do, but it was so bad that he seemed to be in a different time signature than the conductor. Menuhin and Elman were great when they were young but they tried to live off of their reputations for too long instead of doing the required roadwork to keep violinistically fit. You can't get away with that on the violin; the instrument is too demanding. In Elman's defense one must say that he was many years older than Menuhin and you could tell his hands were no longer elastic; in fact, they were quite stiff. He was 69 years old when this was filmed. Erica Morini did fine technically and played better than half of these violinists, but she was really out of her league. She played well but I expect more dash, depth and spontaneity in a performance of the Bruch. She was sharp but not electrifying. I wish David Oistrakh had been given something else to play so we could have seen him play by himself. His son, Igor, seemed to have better positioning before the microphone and often David is 'stepped on'. It was nice to see them both, however. I would have preferred for David to have had a solo. I've played and heard the Bach D- concerto so many times that I think I was listening through it rather than to it. I was

quite bored with it since it seemed to sound like just about any other performance of it I've ever heard. There was nothing exceptional here.

Stern's, Francescatti's and Ricci's performances redeemed this DVD for me and made it worth the purchase price. The other violinists were great in their 'day' but this was not the day.

April 20, 2005 at 05:20 PM · Ole,

Agreed about Menuhin. It's a shame to see such a fantastic musician struggling so much technically. I really cringed at parts, as with his Bruch concerto on the Emi archive DVD. Such an exceptional musician (and a violinist in the pre-war days) but it all seemed to go to pot. A great shame.


April 20, 2005 at 10:20 PM · So these guys were past their primes? Does that lessen their artistic interpretation, and their signature sound?

Look, we'd all like to maintain our skills for a lifetime. But we don't stop playing when those days are past. If so, I would have quit 25 years ago. The world needed to hear those aging stars playing, even if past their prime.

April 20, 2005 at 10:38 PM · Speaking of Menuhin, what happened to him? Did he just not keep up practicing? Did he have physical or emotional problems sometimes? His Bach on AoV is good and is probably in the same time frame. I remember seeing him on tv sometimes when I was a little kid and always wondering if it was going to be on or off. Seemed kind of random.

April 21, 2005 at 02:41 AM · There are some rough spots during Menuhin's performance of the Paganini Concerto, but over all I think he played it well. I don't think Menuhin's not perfect playing like his early years was lack of practice, I think it was more emotional and physical. Just an opinion. I have Yehudi playing the Brahms Concerto on video from at least the 1980's, long after his performance of the Paganini, and over all it was pretty good. I am not an expert on technique, but it seems Menuhin's bow arm gave him trouble, lack of control. There are times I thought when watching him play, even in his younger years, that if he played a little more with less bow instead of constantly playing from frog to tip he would have had gained more control. Nevertheless, even though he lost a bit of his technique, to me he made up for it with his heart felt interpretations.

April 21, 2005 at 02:21 AM · Menuhin remains one of the great violinistic enigmas for me. He's a violinist who was without doubt a great musician, but whose violin playing was extremely variable. I don't tend to listen to his recordings very often, because my experience was that his superb ability to communicate music depended very much on his actual presence. I heard him play the Bartok Solo sonata in Carnegie Hall in the 1980s, and it was just riveting. Not perfection, violinistically speaking, but that didn't seem to matter at all at the time. His complete concentration and identification with the music was beyond question. His main problem from the 1940s onward seems to be one of consistency. You just never knew what you were going to get from one performance to another. But when he was "on", it was spellbinding.

April 21, 2005 at 02:44 AM · Hey Terry, well said and I agree 100 percent with you.

April 21, 2005 at 03:13 AM · I think there comes a time when you hang it up. Heifetz realized that, didn't he? (Guitarist) Segovia pushed it decades beyond what should have been the stopping point. Milstein, on the other hand, sounded very good in his 80's IMHO.

On the one hand, it's their business and not ours. On the other hand, the public rightly expects certain standards to be met and artists of a certain stature might do well to think about their own reputation and legacy.

April 21, 2005 at 06:21 AM · Greetings,

The riddle of Menuhin and the decline was in a discussion I started about a year ago where everyone gave their opinion and tried to answer the question "why?". When I listen to my recordings of Menuhin I can't help but look at it from the man's perspective "Ok, I'm in my 30's (1950's) and my technique is not really as good as it was in my wonder years of the 1930' what should I do? Quit? Now? When I'm only in my 30's?" - With this it helps me to understand why Menuhin kept going like he did - why should he have quit in his 30's? Menuhin loved performing and communicating through music. It was his life - and to ditch it just because his "technique" wasn't as fabulous would have stolen his immense pleasure with performing for auidiences who obviously loved to hear him (He could always pack a hall). So this explains to me at least why Menuhin kept going - with most of what he played I'm very glad he did...



April 21, 2005 at 06:33 AM · Also I think overwork in the war time served to damage his physique quite significantly - I have a recording he did live in 1940 of the Bach E Major, Brahms and Paganini Concerto No 1 in full as well as two Bach encores. The man truely did overwork himself - today you rarely if ever see a violinist perform 3 full concerti plus encores in the one concert...

April 22, 2005 at 01:32 AM · Why did he decline anyway? I heard he had a mental breakdown because of the Holocaust and that affected his playing....?

March 24, 2007 at 09:13 AM · I was very impressed by Francescatti's playing in this DVD.

Does anyone know much about him? I know that he got a (so it seemed to me) slightly unsympathetic treatment from Henry Roth in his book, and in the second article on him in one of the later 'The Way They Play' books.

I also enjoyed Ricci's playing, and Stern's.

March 24, 2007 at 09:54 AM · it's all on youtube...if any of you don't have the actual bell Telephone hour dvd.

March 24, 2007 at 06:48 PM · So much to respond to here. Yes, a great DVD - seeing all of these historical legends live and unedited, whether or not they were past their prime. Except for Morini, Elman, and Igor Oistrakh, I heard all of them in the concert hall at least once. Just a couple of comments.

Francescatti - a great, great violinist, often (I think) underrated. He was always "on." One of the most vibrant sounds live in the concert hall, and exceptionally warm and sparkling playing. I saw him once live (the Mendellsohn Concerto), and the playing was flawless, both technically and musically. Years ago my dad said that when he went on a business trip he had heard Francescatti play the Brahms, and that afterwards the audience was "seeing stars" as they walked out.

Menuhin - controversial (as a violinist and as a person), but he could communicate with an audience like no one else, and that comes through in his playing, whether he was having a good or a bad day, either early or late in his career. In the Paganini, it seems as if he is going to fall apart at any moment, and yet the playing just rivets your attention. He brought something to Paganini that makes it an almost heroic adventure - Will he get through it? It makes for an incredibly exciting (although not perfect) performance. He still communicates a sense of passion about the music that adds a dimension to Pagaini that I would like to think the composer intended.

Ricci - Often underrated in his ability to play musically and connect with an audience. His recordings of the Tchaikovsky and the Sibelius (if you've never heard them) are GREAT.

Rabin - Great violinist, tortured soul. I saw him live when he was in his early 20's (Paganini 1st Concerto), and he was spectacular. I've hardly ever seen pictures or films of him smiling. Although I understand that not too long before he died he gave some radio interviews in which he exhibited a great deal of charm, humor, and ease of relating.

Oistrakh - I saw him a half-dozen times, and yes this piece and the performance don't do justice to what he could do.

Morini - Kind of unimpressive at first - an understated performance - but the more you listen to it, the more it grows on you. It really is a wonderfully warm performance. And I happen to like her stage presence - no faces, no awkward gestures, no grimaces, no dry heaves - just the music.

Elman - This is what happened to him when he aged. And what a difference from those absolutely beautiful early performances.


March 24, 2007 at 08:21 PM · The Ricci and Rabin videos are the two best on this DVD in my opinion.

March 25, 2007 at 05:38 AM · Rabin was great in this dvd too. But what of Francescatti, overall, for those who have heard a lot of his playing? He was a great violinist.

Agree with you about Menuhin's performance on this DVD, Sandy. Can't understand some of the earlier 2005 comments. And Ricci was great both to listen to and to watch. Such presence! I loved how he uses wrist vibrato. An interesting left hand, as well as his right.

Incidentally, Erica Morini does not appear to be using a chin rest. Probably an optical illusion or something?

March 25, 2007 at 05:10 AM · Really? I thought she was using a chinrest. She did have a very strange posture, her head was facing the audience for the entire time.

March 25, 2007 at 05:40 AM · I'm probably guilty of looking for a shining role model where perhaps none exists (a modern violin pro who doesn't use one). I've been enjoying a boost in my progress since going without from about August last year. But everyone is bored to tears over the whole topic so thats all I have to say about the war in Vietnam.

Now, back to the main topic: Francescatti.

March 25, 2007 at 03:28 PM · I am huge fan of Francescatti. His Paganini and Beethoven Concertos are some of my favorites in the catalogue. Classy player with one of most sonorous tones every produced. He doesn't just show off with the Paganini, he makes music. It is interesting to note that his father studied with Camillo Sivori, Paganini's only legitamate student.

The Rabin footage is great but I'd rather listen to his earlier stuff, since this DVD is later in his life when his playing was not as stable. The Kreisler from the Art of the Violin is ridiculous...

March 25, 2007 at 04:05 PM · My absolute favorite Francescatti recording is the Beethoven with Ormandy and the Philadelphia. In fact, it is my favorite recording of the piece and one of (I think) the all-time greats. It was re-released on CD for the first time since the 1950's by Biddulph last year. And his recording of the Tchaikovsky is my all-time favorite of that one, too.


March 25, 2007 at 04:07 PM · Sandy, I've heard Menuhin performances that connected with me, but this one does not (and I consider myself part of the audience).

March 25, 2007 at 07:54 PM · Mike: To each his (or her) own. No problem. I just think that Francescatti brings a sense of balance to the Beethoven, with enough nuances and yet a very straightforward approach and perfect tempo. There are others I like too (Especially Oistrakh, and even Heifetz), but I keep coming back to the Francescatti. And as to the Tchaikovsky, there are a couple of passages (especially the buildup to the orchestral blast of the main them in the 1st movement) that I think Francescatti plays more excitingly than anyone else. Who else had a bounce to their bow like that?

Cheers, Sandy

March 25, 2007 at 09:33 PM · Jon, I believe that not only did Erica Morini use a chin rest, she actually was known to use a double chin rest ;)

March 25, 2007 at 10:55 PM · I forgot to mention that it was Francescatti who helped the young Rabin attain a performing career. Francscatti made the connection between Rabin and Columbia records. They had a very close relationship as mentor/student.


Hi Larry,

I'm supposed to be practising, so this will be brief. Yes, I understand what you're saying (wink and a friendly smile).

I replayed the DVD last night, after writing my post above, fully expecting to prove myself wrong with a closer look at the video image. I thought I would see that she does indeed have a chinrest in that performance. But, wonder of wonders, I think I might be right about her going without in this instance. You can definitely see a 'mark' on her fiddle, that looks a bit like a chinrest when she is holding it by her side, or lifting it up. But I think this is just a mark that some old violins have in that area (these marks are almost identical in shape to a CR, for those who might not realise). Towards the end of the concerto you can see Erica Morini reposition her head on the fiddle, almost in close-up (from a 'scroll eye view', so to speak). You can clearly see the side of her jaw go right down onto the top of the violin belly. There ain't nothin' there, my friends. If she's using a chinrest, it must be an eighth of an inch high, or less. I don't think she's using one.

Does it matter? No, not particularly. It doesn't prove anything amazing, or challenging, or Earth shattering. It just means something to someone who also chooses to go without (at the moment). Having a bit of good company in the world is always nice.

I know that she certainly used one at other times in her career. Maybe she felt like experimenting, or she discovered that, at that time, she got good results from going without. Or maybe I'm wrong. Been wrong before. Have a close look, if you get the time, and if you're interested.

March 26, 2007 at 10:46 AM · I'm going to give it a good once-over. A friend of mine is debating going all-natural (no cr/sr).

March 26, 2007 at 12:02 PM · Well said sir!

Have you been witness to some of the big, fisticuff-swinging, macho-drenched, barney-esque featurettes that have been seen on in the past? Sometimes some rather venomous things are written (not yet to me, or by me). I'm wary. Hence the notice at the start of my post.

And now, after a brief intermission, we shall be returning you to our main feature: Francescatti and Ricci (etc).

Or, if you like, young Skywalker, we can go back to talking about this FULLY OPERATIONAL topic about the CR/SR (Emporer stands up from his chair and extends his ghostly hands toward Luke, his baleful eyes staring disconsolately, without wink or glimmer).

Sheesh, I'm off to do some practice.

March 27, 2007 at 10:11 AM · Anyone had a chance to check it out yet? I won't bite. Tell me if you think I'm wrong (or correct). My picture quality isn't too good on this DVD so I may have gotten the wrong impression from what I saw. Pretty good effort for Erica Morini, though, no matter what the facts of the matter are.

PS I wanted to edit some of my earlier posts (too long, and too 'full-on' in intensity, perhaps. But the 'edit' button won't reappear, alas, so I'm stuck with what I wrote. The lot of the writer!

March 28, 2007 at 06:36 PM · The last time I heard Zino Francescatti was in Chicago in the 1950s when he played the Saint-Saens B minor concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

His tone was quite large and he attacked the beginning of the concerto with a fair amount of gusto. The playing was clearly flashy and many rubatos were taken. The second movement harmonics were like a set of muted chimes. The finale was done in a decisive manner with large variances of dynamics and songful phrasing (which Francescatti excelled in).

The last movement was not taken fast (as most violinists usually do) but it had a playful vivaciousness. Francescatti was not one to avoid slides and plenty were used. He liked to play a melodic phrase on one string and this performance was one where he showed what a master he is of that kind of one string technique.

After he finished the Saint-Saens concerto the audience went wild and he then came out and played two encores. More clapping, and after a long period of time, he came out on stage with his hat atop his head and his overcoat fully buttoned, and carrying his violin case. The audience roared with laughter as Zino tipped his hat individually to the three corners of the auditorium.

Ted Kruzich

March 28, 2007 at 06:57 PM · Great story. He wasn't as flambouyant the one time I saw him, but his playing was marked by some of the same things you indicate, and it was indeed a wonderful performance (the Mendellsohn) - and note perfect.


March 28, 2007 at 11:33 PM · Great story, Ted!

With regards to Menuhin, I've heard it said that his playing began to decline when he began to question and deconstruct how it was he did what came so naturally to him as a child. I'm not sure how much merit there is to that, but I've both read it and heard that sentiment from other violinists as well.

March 29, 2007 at 02:01 PM · I think it is simpler than that. Menuhin just didn't practice as much as he got older.

March 29, 2007 at 02:19 PM · I heard this attributed to Heifetz, but who knows the origin:

(When asked if he had to practice every day)

"Of course I have to practice. If I don't practice for one day, I can hear the difference. If I don't practice for 2 days, the orchestra can hear the difference. If I don't practice for 3 days, the audience can hear the difference. And if I don't practice for 4 days, the critics can hear the difference."

This reminds me of a variation on the famous General Sherman quote:

"If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve. If impeached, I will not resign."

:) Sandy

March 29, 2007 at 06:12 PM · The version I heard, which reportedly came from Isaac Stern, is less cynical:

"If I miss practice for one day, I can hear the difference. If I miss two days, my wife can hear the difference. If I miss three days, the audience can hear the difference."

March 29, 2007 at 11:23 PM · When I look at Menuhin, I can't see any reason for him not to play well - his bowing is "in the groove", technique is phenomenal, soulfulness is legendary; but there's always something - jerks and jitters - that stops him putting it across. He looks like a fish out of water in front of the cameras, too.

March 29, 2007 at 11:45 PM · I heard Menuhin live during the Reiner era with the Chicago Symphony. Both times he played the Bartok Concerto #2, really compellingly. But at one moment during the first movement, he paused for a fraction of a second, and looked as if he forgot, but then he came in just fine. It was only a millisecond, but he actually looked panicked. I'm not familiar enough with the score to tell you where, but I remember it clearly.


March 30, 2007 at 01:10 AM · Jon, since you've posted three times in a manner that seems to be trying to get my goat, I'll oblige. Here goes.

First off, if you MUST raise the topic of the debate again, try elaborating about what it is that you feel is improved with no CR. The sound that is diminished as pounds of non-reverberant flesh are dropped onto the vibrating top plate of the violin? The vastly improved left hand facility and accuracy that is the result of having to grip the neck of the instrument with the left hand, since the head weight from above and NONRAISED shoulder below can no longer hold the instrument? The notion that if you try something that hasn't been tried before you'll somehow stumble onto violinistic viagra?

See, I don't just say use a CR because others have used it. I say use a CR because a) there's no reason not to use it and b) there are a lot of reasons TO use it. Resonance. Ergonomics. Common sense. And that's just for starters. Of course, a CR that is the wrong shape for your jawline will DEFINITELY be uncomfortable. But the trick is to find out just what ELEMENT, what spot on the CR is uncomfortable and then find one that has the corresponding spot shaped differently. I, for instance, prefer low CRs, with a sweep down and away on the left hand side, allowing me to hold the violin without effort by just resting my head on the leftmost side of the chinrest, and underneath the fiddle on the midpoint of the shoulder rest. Which is, in turn, resting on my SHOULDER, not halfway down my chest as so many misuse it.

As for "all natural", it seems to originate in trial-and-error experimentations with violin set-up. So why stop at chinrests and shoulder rests? Why not do away with modern strings? Modern bows? Modern repertoire? And by "modern", of course, I mean anything that's been developed since the violin itself was invented.

March 30, 2007 at 02:16 PM · Yeah, this is a great dvd, especially for the Rabin and the Stern, this is one of my favorite stern videos

but my favorite hands down is the Oistrakh duet, everytime I watch this I start and finish with that slow movement. . .

It really is a great dvd especially if you consider how many violinists are on it! Think about it, they could have easily split this into three or four dvds, so it's a great bargain!

Or you could just copy it! hehehe Not that I would do that, that's illegal people!

Also, did anybody else find that there is maybe something a little off about the Elman recording of the 2nd mvmt of the Wieniawski 2? I'm trying to be tasteful here! I'm sure he was getting old in this video, but still it was kind of an eye-opening experience the first time I watched this dvd!

March 31, 2007 at 07:45 AM · I (think) I tried to get your goat, Emil. You have gotten mine one or two times. Your presence on is much more important than mine. I stand aside for you, and I respectfully grant you the last say on the matter, if you wish to take the opportunity.

I promise not to write provocative things in my posts, that may be construed as getting anyone's goat, as long as I may occasionally be suffered to mention my personal questions relating to violin playing. I promise not to deliberately provoke for the sake of provocation.

I apologise Emil if I have been disrespectful to an artist and to a fellow human being in my earlier writings.

March 31, 2007 at 12:49 PM · This is such a great website with such wonderful, insightful, sensitive, talented, and accomplished artists, that I think we should all take the high road all the time and respect each other and not insult each other or get anyone's goat (I don't even have a goat).

Anyone who doesn't agree to meet this professional standard of diplomacy and professionalism and who has such a thin skin that they go out of their way to insult another respondent in any manner just makes my blood boil and is nothing but a low-down, dirty rotten #&@!!!*#@%^ who should be drawn and quartered (or quarter-toned).

And how Elman could have kept playing when he sounded like he did on the Bell Telephone Hour video is beyond me. He should have retired years before, when he still had that golden tone. I have a better sound than he did, and I'm a rank amateur.


March 31, 2007 at 01:24 PM · We actually did have a goat once. Her name was Grace and she was an Anglo-Nubian. She got a bad problem in her knees, and used to hobble up to the house and rest on an old church pew we had at the side of the house, and chew hay. To look into her eyes was to look into the eyes of a wise old philosopher. She was the salt of the Earth, and a great spirit she had.

Gentlemen, Ladies, would anyone care to add to the wonderful stories we have read here of Francescatti, or any of the other great violinists of the Bell Telephone Hour?

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