April 2008

Mozart with prunes

April 30, 2008 17:02

Funny how one’s ideas and tastes shift. What sounds good grates later on and vice versa. Although hearing Kremer doing Paginini 4 live some 25 years ago ranks as one of my greatest concert memories I had never enjoyed his recorded sound at all. Indeed, when somebody recently asked to borrow all my recordings of Mozart concertos I handed over a box load without even offering the Kremer version with Hanoncourt which has been sitting at the back of my fridge in an old prune can for about five years after one listen through. The friend and I concurred that we liked Grumiaux`s stunning versions best and I forgot about the whole thing until on a whim last week I dusted off the Kremer and it –absolutely blew me away-. I think what it doesn’t have is the unrelenting beauty of sound typical of 20c players. Indeed, I can partner Kremer quite easily with Szigeti using Tziganov`s definition of violinist who have only `sound` and those who have `tone.` Kremer does not have `tone.` He is not interested in beauty except where it emerges from the music itself. Sometimes his playing is relatively ugly but that makes it more appealing to me. For example in the second movement he deliberately changes the pitches he uses on leading notes according to the degree of tension he associates with a particular part of the movement. I can honestly say I have never heard a contemporary violinist use pitch to organize structure;) What affected me so greatly in his recording is that he has probed so deeply into the Mozart, applied so much care and attention to the relative value and significance of every note without losing anything of the natural feel of the music. This I find incredibly rare. What I usually hear in Mozart is players who ,approach it with elegance, wit and beautiful sound as a violinist. Most of the 20c greats worked this way. The other side of the coin is perhaps where a very fine player reacts against this, perhaps as a result of the pressure to be more scholastic, and tries to do `Mozarty, things with the phrasing. Very often I find this basically unpleasant to listen to even if the playing is very fine. The most extreme case of this I can think of is the Zeheitmere version. For me, Kremer is trying to be neither. Somehow he has connected with Mozart and he has the tools to reproduce that essence.

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A humble stab at Repetition Hits.

April 22, 2008 23:33

I can understand the confusion many people are having about Drew`s infamous `repetition hits` (RH) because I was also confused about what was intended. I think I have sorted it out so I am going to write my interpretation and hope that Drew will jump in and correct what could be the most embarrassing blog I have ever written. Hah!
The reason I had an initial misunderstanding about RH was because I have steeped myself in the notion of preparing the left hand before the bow plays the note. In particular I have worked a great deal on inaudibly measuring where a note is on the fingerboard prior to playing by playing various scales and position changes inaudibly so I can hit a note dead on without obvious preparation such as the idiotic plucking that even some advanced players use.
The RH threw me because the concept is a little different. As is fundamental in violin playing –the left hand leads- A left hand finger is the trigger of the gun and the bow is the bullet it shoots. But the finger does not begin -on- the string . It is the act of placing which stimulates the bow to play. So if one wants to practice first finger on the a string then the finger begins above the string. The rhythm one begins with is two eight notes followed by a quarter note. The first finger drops from the base knuckle and activates the bow which plays a –staccato- 8th note. The finger then releases up rhythmically and drops again. It is this second drop that triggers the bow to play another short note. There is no intermediate open a string. The finger pops up again rhythmically IE in the tempo you have set yourself and drops again for the quarter note which triggers the bow to play a sustained long note. At the end of the long note the bow stops and the finger pops up again ready to begin the whole sequence over again.
The point is to begin sufficiently slowly that one can pay great attention to the bow stopping and not playing any intermediate open a strings. This is very intense coordination work of value to any level of player. As one gets more proficient one can gradually speed up but the goal is always the perfect coordination of left leading right and effortless rhythmical release of the left hand finger upwards. Many books and teachers tell you to use extra effort to lift the fingers from the base joints because of gravity. I think this has been a great mistake in the teaching of relaxed playing.;)
Once one has done with the first finger leave it resting lightly on the string and repeat the procedure many times with the second finger and so on. Remember there is no intermediate sound of the first finger.
After some time spent mastering this simple rhythm try quarter note followed by two eights, syncopations and anything else that takes your fancy. In sum, the basic difference between this and regular technical practice is that the finger comes form above the string and there must be total coordination between hit and bow stroke. This is what makes it an infinitely more powerful practice technique than playing passages very rapidly in the left hand but with legato bowing containing many notes. this practice has great value but it does not work on coordination in the same way. Thus pages of Schradiec doing 16 notes to a bow or whatever develops facility of left hand but neglects coordination to a large extent.
Have I got it yet?????

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More Christmas shopping...

April 8, 2008 19:34

once more in pursuit of the ultimate CD collection....
One of my favorite violinists is Kyung Wha Chung. Fantastic player and fantastic musician. However, even allowing for her choice to do less after establishing a stellar international career she didn’t I think really establish herself as a movie star type favorite in the way Perlman did. I recently bought her recording of the three Brahms violin sonatas with Peter Frankl and for me this recording for all its stellar qualities tended to suggest a reason to me: as a question of taste I think her sound is just a little too brittle and over excited all the time. She can play loud and soft. She has enormous power and range but there is no creamy or laid back. Thus her sound is for me, fairly well matched to the nervous impulse I associate with the d minor but sounds out of place in the g major which also includes some rather mannered bow swelling that disturbed the flow for me. What does impress me about her is her extraordinary ability to be playing loud and as the phrase requires more suddenly more happens and just when you think that must be it she finds more and so on. This is actually quite rare and I seem to recall it was san aspect of playing she has been very concerned with over the years.
Recently commented on how well I thought Ferras played the Beethoven sonatas, actually preferring them to the glorious set by Oistrakh that should be at the top of anyone’s Christmas list. O ne of my criteria for these works has always been fidelity to Beethoven’s markings which has been surprisingly lax from me of the older greats while the new generation ha perhaps swung the other way while often losing the pizzazz and color. Or so I thought until I stumbled on a recording of a violinist who more and more comes at the top of my prunery. Vengerov`s recording of the Spring is just mind blowing to me. None of this `springy` rubbish which bedevils the twee performances of young students who have this apparently simple work thrust upon them. Vengerov has the gonads (like Heifetz) to go –real fast= and that brings the whole architecture into brilliant relief. He plays with fidelity to the score but its die hard macho playing which is not listening for the faint hearted. Just fantastic. If I have one caveat it is that the last movement is actually rather fast even in this framework and doesn’t give us an elegant breather after all the preceding fireworks. A more relaxed pianist might have provided a balance. Nonetheless this is a version of an old war horse that should be studied with attention. Very special.

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