Great players who fall through the cracks
I find the comparison between sport and violin playing interesting. On the whole, the level of sporting prowess, setting new records and the like follows a fairly linear path of improvement in response to new understanding of body mechanics, nutrition and training and the like. Sometimes, listening to the jaw dropping skills of Hadelich, Hahn and the like it is tempting to assume the same thing about violin performance. yet we can still stumble across players of yore who could match today’s players in terms of sheer facility at the very least. One of my favorites who, as far as I can recall has not been mentioned once on this site as one of the most extraordinary violinsts ever is Albert Markov. I guess there are so many great players today that the Markovs of the world will continue to fall through the cracks or elude our awareness. It’s a great loss really. If I was asked to point to a model of sheer technical ease and precision to emulate Markov would certainly be somewhere at the top of the list.
take time between cappuccinos to check him out….
Thanks for this thread! I don’t see this issue as problematic, however.
thank you Buri for the reference, I indeed had never heard of him, just listened to a few clips, really stellar. so he is the father of Alexander Markov? the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in that case?
True enough. There are some who manage to miss out on the PR gravy train, and still others who enjoy teaching enough to avoid celebrity-- whether they planned for that trade is another question. Then you get people like Aaron Rosand, who seems to have lost a political battle at the very top of the tree...
The world of sport has raised the profile of mental health as a critical factor in performance, thanks to the candor of Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, and others. The same is true of musical performers, and perhaps the most prominent among them was Vladimir Horowitz, who was crippled by severe bouts of depression throughout his career. I surmise that there is fairly decent number of violinists who perhaps do not have the brilliant skills of Hadelich or Hahn but are nevertheless "good enough" technically to maintain a small repertoire of concertos for the purpose of performing them with American regional orchestras to now-compulsory ovations. And then there are the CMs of these many orchestras, who are "on call" to cover the solos in Scheherazade or join a guest cellist in a performance of the Brahms Double. When it comes to individuals, I prefer not to speculate unless the individual announces something first, out of respect for his or her privacy. But the "exposed population" of performing professionals is more than large enough that mental health issues are doubtlessly affecting a significant number among them.
I’m not sure I buy the premise that the world needs to know about every violinist who ever demonstrated a brilliant technique. The world is full of Markovs.
Scott, Hahn is actually a pretty darned good player, don't you think?
There's also a curiosity about a Europe/US divide, where a lot of seemingly fantastic players can't/don't make the jump to the US, and where the big touring in the US is occupied by a lot of the same names.
Each necessary, none sufficient.
When I was a teenager, the recordings I can find were by Stern, Stern, Stern... and Perlman, Zukerman.
Buri, I'm glad you mentioned Albert Markov. I played in a small string orchestra that toured with him in the early '90s, and I thought his playing was excellent. (I don't remember the entire program, but Mozart 5 and Zapateado were on it.) Another name worthy of adding to the list would be David Nadien's. And Victor Pikaizen's. And, and, and...
I get the distinct impression that luck plays a large role. Record labels seem to have a strong bias toward soloists who are noticed at an early age; it seems like many of them are already signed with a major record label when still in their teens. It seems to me that even musicians who win big competitions at later ages have trouble breaking into global solo careers and end up touring only regionally, because they're already too old to be hailed as prodigies.
There are two other factors affecting who "falls through the cracks."
Urs Frauchiger, the former director of the conservatorium in Bern wrote a book--I believe in the early 1990s-- titled "Was zum Teufel ist denn mit der Musik los?" (What the devil is the matter with music?). In it he discussed in a highly entertaining way topics like "how to listen to music", "the audience", "amateur musicians" etc.
90% of those Menuhin/Wieniawski/Elizabeth/Tchaikovsky/etc Competition people that don't place 1st prize. Oleksii Semenenko (who placed second in the 2015 Queen Elizabeth) played a fantastic Waxman and Mozart 5, but you don't hear too much of him anymore. Maybe that Palpiti turned all the orchestras away? I don't know, but it is very sad.
I was friends with a great soloist (he had won both the Tchaikovsky and Paganini competitions) who was truly stellar. Unfortunately he was done in way too young by personality issues as well as substance abuse.
Buri, among Soviet-era Russian violinists, Igor Politkovsky comes to mind. I have a nice album of his playing. The title of the album is atrocious: "Russian Violin School" or some such. But there are some lovely salon pieces by Rubinstein, Balakirev,* etc., and it's thrilling violin-playing. Politkovsky took 11th in the QE competition in 1955. Julian Sitkovetsky was another great Russian violinist but he died at a very young age (early 30s). He was considered an equal of Oistrakh. His Sibelius is amazing.
Scott, I have an interesting exercise for you. Cue up a bunch of youtube recordings of, for instance, the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and listen with your eyes as well as your ears. One easy thing to note that doesn't involve tonal discrimination is the difference in the strength of strong attacks, the visual attack vs the audible attack. Notice that HH makes all the right moves, but her terrible violin filters it all out, rendering a monochromatic, narrow and relatively undynamic performance. I discovered this one night listening to an unfamiliar playlist, hearing someone I thought resembled a fine player run through compressor software. . . . turned out to be her. She gained a small amount of status for me that evening. When she buys a good violin I may cede her more status.
"but her terrible violin filters it all out"
A Vuillaume is not a Strad. Good is different from great. This is for me the core difference that people who talk about modern violins being just fine aren't hearing. But you don't know what you don't know, and a lot of egos are tied up in what they know as being the upper limit of what is knowable and possible.
But now she's traded up to TWO Vuillaumes.
I read somewhere that HH has been interviewed and questioned exhaustively about why she doesn't play a Strad or a del Gesu and she has said that whenever she tries them against her Vuillaume, she just can't find anything she prefers. I'm going to guess that she has the physical skill to coax a good sound out of any other top soloist's violin.
No No No No. I don't not like her playing or sound. I am just trying to notice the correlation that Michael mentioned, even if I'm stretching it a little. I love her recordings of the Schoenberg Concerto, Stravinsky Concerto, and Vieuxtemps 4.
Well, this discussion reminds me of people arguing top of the line audiophile gear. Some people can afford anything, others are forced to buy the best they can afford. Some in this firstly mentioned "upper tier"-though by no means all-will berate this "mid-fi hell" gear. Others can also afford anything, but do prefer "mid-fi" gear or even lower due to personal preference. These last ones will be accused of bad taste, or "broken ears", not knowing "what is good for them."
Adalberto, You are correct. As far as calling any individual violin a "POS," one only needs to look at the fact that even trained ears often can't tell that a Stradivarius et al sounds "better" than another maker's violin. Some of the talk about "good, better, best" is sometimes rooted in envy. But I am a permanent beginner resigned to my lot. Music is to be enjoyed, not fought over especially when argument spills over into vulgarity.
Three great artists that deserve more attention today, in my opinion, are Antal Zalai, Kirill Troussov, Liza Ferschtman. Who knows why they don't appear on the cover of The Strad, get signed up for recording deals with Deutsche Grammophon, or play with the world's major orchestras.
Michael, are you referring to Hahn's first Vuillaume or her second?
It's a serious disservice from her recording company to her if she's the only top violinist that sounds bad on CD in that particular way when the others seem to manage, isn't it?
I didn't mean this to turn into a referendum on Hillary Hahn. Ok, she's a good fiddler, if you like her interpretation, fine.
Hilary draws a beautiful sound from her instruments in my opinion. Aaron Rosand bought a wonderful Strad model J.B. Vuillaume in 2008 and told me how much he enjoyed playing on it.
Sacrilege, coming up!
Relatively anonymous excellent violinists would be all those section players in the major orchestras. One of my teachers in L.A. was a very fine, accurate player, who spent most of his time in the recording studios. He earned enough money to purchase a major violin and a house in Malibu. Less unknown would be Louis Kaufman, who we all have heard doing 100's of film scores as soloist or concertmaster.
I may as well chip in my two ha'p'orth, that in her recent recordings HH sounds very different from 20 years ago when she presumably played a loaned Strad or GdG, e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HZVQyD9rsY.
Well I sound very different from 20 years ago too.
Michael, I'm often not keen on the ultraprocessed sound of many modern CD recordings of violinists, which seem to filter out a lot of the warmth of a player's sound. SACD fixes that to a large degree.
Anyone:-- forgive my ignorance, but, what is SACD? -- jq (BC, Before Computers, techno-phobe Luddite dinosaur)
There may be an official meaning, but it is basically a super audio CD. Looks like a CD, generally plays in a conventional player, but in a machine designed for it will deliver much higher resolution.
I'm curious to know what "resolution" means in this context. There are only two axes -- time and intensity. The bit rate of the sample can be increased, which extends the frequency range according to the Nyquist principle, or the ADC can be more bits (e.g., 32 vs 24 vs 16). Along which axis is there increased resolution?
It's a compact disc format, created by Sony and Philips, which uses DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recording technology that samples the musical signal at 2.8 million times per second. By comparison the standard CD, first developed in the late 1970's, samples at 44,100 times per second. Many SACD are hybrids that contain a SACD layer and a conventional CD layer, which allows them to be played on regular CD players.
CD-quality audio is easily bested by the various hi-definition (sampling rate, bit rate) formats. The question that the industry is having trouble with is how to deliver those superior files to consumers.
These days "processed" has come to mean "all the goodness extracted and replaced with toxins" (I really shouldn't have had those Choco-pillows for breakfast). I believe it's often true that too much mixing and dynamic compression goes on in the processing of CDs, resulting in a loss of immediacy, directional information and sheer oomph. Popular genres rarely call for large dynamic contrasts so dynamic compression has become the norm, ironing out the residual dynamics presumably so you aren't startled by sudden contrasts while driving the car. Sadly this practice has leaked into the classical domain where dynamic contrasts are often huge. Now it isn't hard to find orchestral recordings in which the loud bits are scarcely louder than the quiet bits.
I see this a lot on the net, people arguing that theory makes ears useless.
I don't understand your thesis Michael. I listened to the Shostakovich posted, then I went and listened to Hahn playing the Carmen Fantasy very recently, and in both, her sound was fine. I guess we're at an impasse, unless we want to turn this into a hi-fi forum where people argue about even bigger nothings than we already argue about here.
Let's all admit that hearing and judging "sound" is highly vulnerable to auto-suggestion. In other words: If I don't like HH (or anybody else for any reason) I project that dislike on her tone rather than deriving it from that tone. This leads to a sort of circular self-justification.
Perhaps Michael means that HH uses less extreme color variations in her playing, compared to many other soloists, e.g., JJ, but many others too. Then other top soloists also do not go with that "hype". It's good there are many different individual soloists so we can listen to all of them!
To paraphrase James Galway, every violinist, first or second, in the Berlin Phil could have been a soloist.
Of course the irony is that much as I love my SACDs, convenience means that I do nearly all of my listening on Spotify (at the top bitrate) these days.
Michael Darnton wrote:
I'll give a shout for Vaughan Jones, such a fine player with an innate musicality and an effortless technique. His recording of Paganini's Cantabile e Valzer is as good as anything I've heard.
One potential factor in the difference between live and recorded: vibrato. We may never know how many have been hit by this, since (by definition) they will have less successful recording careers. But playing to the mike is its own sub-discipline.