Your opinion: Greatest and Favorite

February 17, 2019, 11:44 AM · We all have opinions on who, overall, was/is the greatest violinist of all time.

As a life-long lover of the classical violin, I am realizing at this point in my life that I do have a difference of opinion on who was the greatest and who is my favorite.

Obviously, there's no right or wrong in this survey.

My opinion:
The greatest - Jascha Heifetz
My favorite - Zino Francescatti

What's yours?

Replies (51)

February 17, 2019, 1:07 PM · Hilary Hahn for living, and, uhh... Hilary Hahn for the GOAT.

Unless we're including contributions to violin technique and teaching, in which the greatest is probably Bach.

February 17, 2019, 1:08 PM · I like Mutter, Rosand, Oistrakh, Kremer, Heifetz, Hadelich, and Hahn. Heifetz is probably the greatest, partly for his playing and partly for his influence over the generations that followed -- although those two issues do overlap significantly. I think Heifetz had good timing -- he lived (born 1901) and played during the emergence of high-fidelity recordings, so he and a few other truly great players (e.g., Ricci, Oistrakh, Milstein) became legends partly because others had to content with the existence of their recordings. Kreisler was one generation too early (born 1875), Rosand a generation too late (born 1927), otherwise I feel they might have contended with Heifetz for the crown.
Edited: February 17, 2019, 1:50 PM · There was one violinist who was so good it was commonly accepted he had made a deal with the devil, because no mortal man would be able to achieve his level of technical prowess. I remember his music being particularly unique and incredibly difficult, but still catchy. For the life of me, though, I can't remember his name...

Krakovich? Something like that.

February 17, 2019, 4:07 PM · Cotton Mather
You may be thinking of Tartini and the devil's trill.
February 17, 2019, 4:13 PM · I love this threads, my name always pops up...
Edited: February 17, 2019, 7:30 PM · Zuckerman and Mutter- I hate the term greatest because there are so many great ones with different everything and I love them for different reasons. That said, Zuckerman and Mutter have a beauty and ease that I adore.
February 17, 2019, 11:00 PM · I can hardly imagine someone being better than Heifetz (that we know of) but my personal favourite would have to be Janine Jansen at the moment.
February 17, 2019, 11:39 PM · Greatest: toss-up between Heifetz and Hahn, at least in the era of recorded music.

Favorite: Rachel Barton Pine.

February 18, 2019, 2:37 AM · Not wishing to cast nasturtiums but I do find the widespread admiration for Hilary Hahn somewhat perplexing. Can someone suggest a recording that might convert me? Something in which she has something individual to say.
February 18, 2019, 3:08 AM · Not wishing to cast nasturtiums, I can never understand when someone I've never heard of expresses a negative opinion about someone widely acknowledged to be a master of their chosen profession.

I see it commonly on sports websites where some weekend warrior lays into a seasoned professional for an in-their-eyes-only transgression from some imaginary set of standards.

I'm seeing it increasingly here too.

Steve Jones - if you don't appreciate Hilary Hahn, fine. You're entitled to your opinion. But if it's based on negativity and/or jealousy, keep it to yourself. Hahn is widely admired because she *IS* admirable. Perhaps you can suggest a recording in which her playing is in some way less than it should be?

February 18, 2019, 3:10 AM · I'm not qualified to comment on who is the greatest of all time, but my current favorites are among Hilary Hahn, Augustin Hadelich, and Itzhak Perlman in his heyday.
Edited: February 18, 2019, 4:19 AM · Greatest? I'll dare suggest Oistrakh. Heifetz is just..Heifetz.

Favourite recordings?
For Bach and Mozart: Grumiaux (olympian)and Menuhin (lyric).
For Beethoven: Josef Suk (the Supraphon disc) (the crytalline tone of a Grumiaux with the red blood of an Oistrakh?)
For Mendelssohn: Zukerman.
For Brahms: Heifetz (pure fire) and Hahn (pure sunlight).
For Bruch No1 and Lalo: Zukerman.
For Bruch No2, Bloch, Bartok: Menuhin (rhapsodic).
For Sibelius and Tchaikovsky: Oistrakh and Zukerman.
For Elgar: the young Menuhin, and Chung.
For Korngold: Heifetz and Perlman.
For Barber: Perlman and Gerle
(Robert Gerle plays the finale of the Barber "on the string", allowing him to accentuate the shifting accents, and actually making good musical sense of this otherwise ridiculous movement! IMO.)

Edited: February 18, 2019, 6:12 AM · "the red blood of an Oistrakh"
Interesting. I always describe him as Bolshoi, although that's mainly a ballet reference.
He doesn't come across as red-blooded on Youtube, just as an efficient machine. He is one of my favourites, though.
February 18, 2019, 7:00 AM · @TonyLeatham - I don't deny Hahn's good, of course not. I'd just like to know how exactly what qualities people value so highly as to group her with the "greatest". What's your favourite recording?
Edited: February 18, 2019, 8:08 AM · I said somewhere that Ms Hahn is a radiant, feminine version of Heifetz.
In both artists, the playing itself is so beautiful that there is no need for swashbuckling histrionics. And she is the only one to make Schönberg's monstrous concerto accessible for the public.
I appreciate them both less in the great classic concertos (except the Brahms), but more in Barber, Korngold, or Glazunov

I find the "red blood" comezs over in the sound, not in the stage manner.

February 18, 2019, 8:10 AM · @Steve Jones - Hilary Hahn is "good"? I flatter myself that I'm "good" - but Hilary Hahn and all the other players mentioned here transcend "good" - they are so far above "good" it's like comparing an acorn to a planet.

I like most of Hilary Hahn's recordings - but probably the standout performance for me, the one that elevated her in my opinion above most of her contemporaries was the recording on YouTube of her playing the Beethoven concerto. It's not even one of my favourite pieces in the repertoire, but I sat mesmerized and watched her play the entire piece flawlessly, dazzlingly, and with such depth it moved me to tears

I am going to see her give a performance in London in May - it's to promote her latest album of Bach S & Ps and I fully expect it to be one of the best concerts I will ever attend.

February 18, 2019, 11:04 AM · The greatest for me would possibly be Menuhin or Perlman.

My favourite player currently is Chloe Trevor, I love her personality in playing, how she interacts within social media and her summer school that she runs! A great way to inspire young musicians. :)

Edited: February 18, 2019, 12:04 PM · Oscar Shumsky? Supposed to be a "violinist's violinist." I got to see him play in person once in a small venue, and I have his recordings of all the Brahms Sonatas. I want to say that he was terrific, but intonation seemed to be an issue.
Edited: February 18, 2019, 12:06 PM · Ida Haendel - especially her Danse Russe and Sibelius Concerto interpretations
February 18, 2019, 12:22 PM · Another vote for Hilary Hahn. I also really like Arthur Grumiaux's recording of the Mozart concertos.
February 18, 2019, 9:57 PM · Heifetz was the best, but Fritz Kreisler is my favorite.

P.S. Wonder why the top eight or ten violinist all had thirteen letters in their name?
Just curious.

February 18, 2019, 10:23 PM · The greatest? Who can ignore the legendary Paganini?
February 19, 2019, 12:06 AM · Unfortunately, Paganini was too early to record. That's why I qualified my "greatest" with "in the era of recorded music."
February 19, 2019, 12:37 AM · For the Goldmark - Milstein.
His playing (with conductor Harry Blech) is one of the greatest violin recordings of all time, and enough to make this concerto worth hearing again and again.
February 19, 2019, 2:12 AM · Personal favourites are fine but GOAT games are silly. Can anyone actually claim to have heard all these fiddlers, in the flesh, in a sufficient sample of their repertoire? We're simply regurgitating received wisdom and tilting it according to our own limited experience
February 19, 2019, 6:17 AM · Mr. Wittert,

Magical recording indeed-too bad that truly perfect Concerto is rarely performed in our "modern" day. For a moderb performance, I still love that Chamg recording of now more than 15 years ago (time flies when you are having fun with the violin.) I scratched my Testament Milstein Goldmark CD by accident, so I will reorder it again soon (thanks for the reminder.)

Milsteim, Heifetz, and Oistrakh are perhaps the most important/influential non-livimg violinists in my life (despite them being so different from each other) but I also love most of the others, regardless gender or nationality.

I listen regularly to a lot of Grumiaux, though he doesn't seem as well-regarded, it seems.

Wish we had a way to travel in time to listen to each of these great musicians at their prime on Carnegie Hall (not a recording, but the actual experience). I have no idea how many of these masters *really* sounded in real live performance situations.

February 19, 2019, 8:47 AM · I admire most of the world's great violinists, but from my student days my favorites were Joseph Szigeti and Alfredo Campoli. Had anyone told me then that I would come to know each of them well and be friends with them, I would not have believed it.
Edited: February 19, 2019, 9:20 PM · Some of us had a long-running discussion of this over at Linked-In, violin dept. The consensus was Heifetz for #1, then in no particular order, Milstein, Kreisler, Oistrakh, Perlman, Fracescatti. Before electric recording (1927), we have to judge them according to their contemporary reputation, their advancement of technique, the difficulty of their compositions. My list was Paganini #1, then Vivaldi, Joachim, Ysaye, Sarasate. Besides H. Hahn, Joshua Bell, I don't know enough to say about the current soloists. Then there were some brilliant players who were not famous: Campoli. Also; If you hear a gorgeous violin solo on a movie sound-track of the golden age, 1930's - 1960's (?), it was probably Louis Kaufman. When asked why he did so many studio recording sessions instead of being a trveling soloist, his answer was; "Their checks don't bounce".
Edited: February 20, 2019, 3:42 AM · Don't "the people" deserve a say too? After all, everybody has an opinion regardless of whether they have any relevant knowledge. Give them a short list of 100, put it to the vote and erect a statue. The BBC recently decided that the greatest "icon" of the 20th century was Alan Turing, based of what criteria isn't entirely clear but he played like Einstein!
February 20, 2019, 4:27 AM · "Like Einstein"
And how was that?

Curious that nobody has questioned whether Heifetz really was the best. I think technically undoubtedly, but I can't connect to his emotions - I'd rather listen to Hahn.

Favorite? Very hard springing to mind - Huberman, Rabin, Zuckerman, Grumiaux, Hassid, Ginette Neveu, and on ...

Yes, I'm a romantic emotive...

February 20, 2019, 5:08 AM · "Like Einstein" Turing also played the violin but exactly how well isn't recorded. Apparently he played to the policemen who came round to question him but it seems didn't impress them enough to let him off with a caution. But he gets my vote anyway.
February 20, 2019, 5:38 AM · Maestro Heifetz gets at times an unfair, bad reputation for "steely" or "uninvolved" performances, but he was quite romantic in his music making. Always remember listening to his Lalo SE years ago and thinking "wow, this is not really "cold" at all!" Wonderful performance, despite the unfortunate-and customary-lack of the middle movement.

(Indeed, some modern great performers appear "colder" at times by virtue of being-IMHO at least- artificially constrained at times in their playing by what is "proper" to do or not-which is not to imply that there are no rules or guidelines to follow for the current musician.)

I do like all of those other performers as well, Ms. Stanley-no offense intended at all. And sometimes even players like Grumiaux recorded a phrase here and there too that sounds too "uninvolved" (or "modern") for my taste. I do enjoy Grumiaux in general, of course.

There are plenty of living, great performers nowadays, however, whom I admire for being great "romantic" interpreters in our more "modern performance" times.

February 20, 2019, 6:10 AM · Pardon my blasphemy but, why is Heifetz considered the pinnacle of violin playing by many/most? What made Heifetz, Heifetz?

I tried listening to his recordings but I just can’t stand the quality of old recordings.

February 20, 2019, 6:39 AM · Many of Heifetz's later recordings sound superb in RCA's Living Stereo remastering and I don't think are at all inferior to today's. One I particularly like is the Bruch Scottish Fantasy, another Prokofiev's 2nd concerto, even his Bach Double. I often don't entirely agree with his approach but I hear a refreshing individuality that very few subsequent players possessed (although in recent years there does seem to have been a resurgence). GOAT? Who cares?
February 20, 2019, 7:58 AM · " "Like Einstein" Turing also played the violin but exactly how well isn't recorded" You missed my point - where is your example of Einstein playing the violin?

"I tried listening to his recordings but I just can’t stand the quality of old recordings. " How sad - they you would hate the others in my list above Carl - the people who played before playing became largely codified... [and on Heifetz, just look a couple of posts earlier than yours ;)]

Edited: February 20, 2019, 2:47 PM · Wow. I didn't expect to kick off this level of discussion. But, just to add 2 things:

- I am privileged to have heard both Heifetz and Francescatti (as well as some of the great ones of today), and my opinion on both still stands.

- My favorite music quotation is by Tchaikovsky: "Music is not illusion. It is, rather, revelation. Its triumphant power is that it reveals beauties we find nowhere else. And the apprehension of them is not transitory, but a perpetual reconcilement of life."

The great ones help us perceive, experience, and appreciate those beauties.

February 20, 2019, 1:45 PM · @Elise - sadly there appears to be no recording of Einstein's playing - just a rather lame youtube spoof
February 20, 2019, 3:21 PM · I literally had not heard of Francescatti before reading this thread. Thanks. I'm going to have to go find recordings.

I like Heifetz and Hahn for the same reason that Adrian mentioned above. They make it look effortless, and don't look or sound like they're trying to impose themselves on the music. And yes, I think of Hahn as the current generation's Heifetz.

February 20, 2019, 7:35 PM · "How sad - they you would hate the others in my list above Carl - the people who played before playing became largely codified..."

@Elise: It does seem like I'm missing out on a lot. Definitely will be one of my summer projects-- to go through recordings of old masters. I'll bookmark this page for future reference.

@Steve: Seems like he was a pretty accomplished player. Could play Mozart's quintet from memory!

February 20, 2019, 11:52 PM · Exactly Steve - I had a topic on that here years ago (see below) but I had to check if you knew of any recording. Which is why, of course you could not make your comparison.

February 20, 2019, 11:57 PM · Carl - try this for starters. But let your emotions lead not your preconceptions of how a violin should sound.
Edited: February 21, 2019, 2:30 AM · @elise - OK, now I get you. I said Turing played violin like Einstein in the same sense as Turing was a great scientist like Einstein. Turing probably had eggs for breakfast like Einstein. But sadly no recordings of either.

Actually that's a good thread. And last year Einstein's weird-looking violin sold for half a million

Edited: February 21, 2019, 2:35 AM · If you ask most pros, they will still say Heifetz. And if you asked Heifetz, he would have said Kreisler. Although many placed Ysaÿe ahead of both of the new guys.

Perhaps not the one favorite, but one whose work at its best keeps blowing me away is Szigeti. Check out his Brahms and Prokofiev #1 concerti, and his Debussy Sonata, all from the 30s or 20s.

Edited: February 21, 2019, 4:32 AM · Not everyone is Heifetz's fan, but most of them would concede that his technique is unmatched. It's hard to forge a style out of classical music, and he did that excellently with his nonchalant, swift, and light playing style, yet with too much precision which I'm not a fan of.

I'm with Steve - I haven't seen anything extraordinarily spectacular with Hilary Hahn's playing, but I admire her personality. She also has a gorgeous 'antique' look, which perfectly suits a classical setting. Does anyone agree that she resembles an artist just walking out of a Reinaissance painting?

My fav is Perlman, Hadelich, Chang, Oistrakh, Hahn herself, and many more.

February 21, 2019, 11:43 AM · Andrew:
Regarding Francescatti recordings, some of my favorites are
- Beethoven Concerto, Ormandy, Philadelphia Orch, about 1950, a performance which I learned was recorded in one take. His Kreisler cadenza is unbelievable.
- Same concerto, on YouTube, forgot the conductor, but this is a video, almost as good as the Ormandy.
- Tchaikovsky Concerto, NY Philharmonic, Mitropolus, 1955 (?), one of the most thrilling of them all.
- Brahms Concerto, Ormandy.
- Prokofiev 2nd Concerto, a diamond of a Performance.
- Walton Concerto, a thrilling one.
- The other usual concertos and shorter pieces (Intro & Rondo etc., Poeme, etc.), sonatas (esp. Beethoven), encores, etc.
- can't think of others at the moment.

PS. On the videos, his stage presence (like his playing) was a model of elegance, warmth, technique, and putting the music first. And his vibrato was literally like no one else's.

February 21, 2019, 12:49 PM · @Sander - I can't help commenting that Francescatti's Philadelphia recording of the Beethoven was one of my first LPs, bought in about 1966, and I played it constantly. He was supposed to play the piece at a concert in Bristol but on arrival we discovered he'd cried off and been replaced by Tossy Spivakovsky (anyone?). I also had Francescatti's recordings of Walton (coupled with Sibelius), Ravel, Chausson etc, and nearly all the Beethoven sonatas, bought relatively cheaply when the mono pressings were being phased out.
February 24, 2019, 12:01 PM ·
My nomination for 'greatest' would probably be
Living: Hilary Hahn
No longer with us: Oistrakh, hotly pursued by Milstein
Favourite? Living - Hilary Hahn
No longer with us - Josef Suk.

I share the view that a really great player does not need to impose him/herself on the music or do anything clever/different with it. I think that is reflected in my preferences.

Sander - there's more than one Francescatti/Beethoven on Youtube now. But the one which blew me away was conducted by Mitropoulos.

Steve Jones: There was a web broadcast years ago of Ms Hahn playing the Nielsen concerto. I don't recall the details, but I remember it was a revelation - and it's a concerto I know quite well (as a listener!). Also it was Ms Hahn who opened my mind/heart/ears to the slow movement of the Sibelius, which I had previously regarded as somewhat thick, turgid and uninteresting. And her Bach.. she is the only player who has demonstrated (to my ears) how close the A minor fugue is to some of the great organ fugues - her 'registration' constantly amazes me.

February 24, 2019, 12:56 PM · I forgot
Goldmark: Mistein & Perlman;
Dvorak: Suk & Milstein;
Prokofiev: Milstein & Chung;
Walton: Heifetz & Chung
February 24, 2019, 1:19 PM · Peter, if you liked the Francescatti/Metropoulos Beethoven, try the Tchaikovsky on cd. Spectacular, elegant, dramatic, vocal, and warm.
February 25, 2019, 11:26 AM · Sander - I found the Tchaikovsky on Youtube. Fine performance, but I'm not blown away by it. Probably my luke-warm feeling towards the concerto has something to do with it - of the 'big' concertos it's the one I like the least. But I will be looking for more Francescatti recordings.
February 26, 2019, 8:48 AM · Oistrakh for life. David Oistrakh, obviously, I mean, Igor was great too, but he couldn't live up to his dad's legacy.
Amazing stuff.
I also like Heifetz (duh) but I like Oistrakh even more for his tone. I also really like Shlomo Mintz, but not his current stuff - I like his stuff from the 80s and 90s. He presses his bow a lot now and has a sort of scratchy tone. Old age, I guess? But his Mendelssohn and Sibelius recordings are golden. Also his Bruch No. 1.
I also really like Christian Ferras.
I also really like saying "I really like..."

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