Notes and Editorial Reviews
DAVID GARRETT LIVE IN BERLIN
David Garrett (vn); Silvia Colloca (mez
); David Garrett Band; Frankfurt New P
DECCA B0013033-09 (DVD: 56:23) Live: Berlin 1/2009
Pirates of the Carribean:
He’s a Pirate.
The Four Seasons:
class="ARIAL12bi">Who Wants to Live Forever?
GARRETT/VAN DER HEIJDEN
Rock Prelude. Chelsea Girl.
Ain’t No Sunshine.
Flight of the Bumblebee.
West Side Story:
Nothing Else Matters.
Zorba the Greek:
A Whole New World.
David Garrett (vn); Band; City of Prague P
DECCA B0014442-02 (39:10)
KOBAIN, STRADLIN, BEETHOVEN, PERRY, BACH, CLAYTON/VIVALDI, BURTON, GARRETT, McCARTNEY, ALBÉNIZ, PLANT
Not long ago, I was wandering around in a bookstore when I heard a violinist romping through a concert of rock music. I say “violinist” because the clean technique and focused tone reminded me of similar qualities in the artistry of pop-violinist Florian ZaBach, whose playing I’ve admired (or more) throughout most of my life. I know that many violinists revere Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti, Stéphane Grappelli, and Svend Asmussen, among others, but where’s the fiddler among them who could play a Paganini caprice or a Wieniawski polonaise, not to mention doing so with panache? But it seemed after hearing only a few minutes of David Garrett that he could do so. And it turns out that, in fact, he received a thoroughgoing violinistic education with Ida Haendel, at the Royal College of Music, and at Juilliard and, in fact, made recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, of Mozart with Claudio Abbado and of Paganini with Bruno Canino. So what he brings to rock music seems to be, as in ZaBach’s case, the real thing, and when he crosses over, he carries it all with him, never compromising violinistic quality in making his musical points in distant stylistic lands.
But does he rank with ZaBach? His DVD provides a close-up view of his musicianship. Like Florian, he composed some of the selections and arranged others; his breadth of musical skills therefore seems almost co-extensive. In the first piece, “He’s a Pirate,” he wanders through the audience, sitting with several members (reminiscent of the singers on Lawrence Welk’s show) as he plays his arrangement, replete with idiomatic but aggressive double-stops while his image flashes on a screen behind the orchestra and band. He’s amplified, but the pickup seems to induce little distortion in his sound. The editors cut abruptly from one selection to another, and almost too suddenly viewers find themselves listening to the first movement of “Winter” from Vivaldi’s
, one of the most virtuosic moments in the set of concertos. As did ZaBach, Garrett has chosen popular works that the audience knows, ones that he can more easily “slip in”; he doesn’t try, for example, to get away with Schoenberg’s Phantasy. He plays this first “classical” number straight before the engineers whisk him away to the world of Michael Jackson’s
, which, as in “He’s a Pirate,” he plays in the lower part of the bow, deftly inserting the Janissary section of Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto. Again, he wanders into the audience. It seems in the next selection—
Who Wants to Live Forever?—
that the violin he’s playing isn’t fully his equal (or, perhaps, conversely, he’s not its equal); ZaBach played a magnificent-sounding Guarneri from 1732 and drew riches from every cubic centimeter. Here’s a promising number, and although he wails in the upper registers and has arranged the melody to include lush double-stops there (think of the Walton concerto), the instrument simply doesn’t seem to respond to him the way ZaBach’s did to him. Garrett’s
, not that artist’s most winning composition; but Garrett, with Bach-like passagework in complex
spun out over heavily pounding percussion, makes it his. He includes a breathtaking duo with electric guitar. With all the adrenaline, the only thing missing here seems to be ZaBach’s
joie de vivre
, which that older violinist distilled in every—
After the inventive and heady
No. 5 may come as something of a letdown, although Garrett ignites plenty of Gypsy fire on the first theme’s return. In this number, the editors haven’t coordinated the visual and auditory images very well; perhaps that’s partly responsible for its more muted effect.
Ain’t no Sunshine
, which follows, features a melody in double stops; but Garrett, unlike ZaBach, doesn’t take full advantage of the instrument’s resources.
The Flight of the Bumblebee
cements the connection between the violinists: ZaBach once held the record for playing the piece the fastest (if that matters); now Garrett does.
Mezzo Silvia Colloca joins Garrett for “Somewhere” in an emotionally resonant partnership that recalls Elman and Caruso, Kreisler and Ferrar or McCormack, and even Heifetz and Crosby, the last a surprisingly compelling collaboration. Monti’s
, beginning with the fast section (the
), concludes with the middle slower melody in harmonics (as it should be); Garrett even includes some risky portamentos in harmonics, which he brings off flawlessly, bless his heart. He invites a young guitarist on stage for
, based on
, before playing a relatively straightforward version of the final storm from Vivaldi’s “Summer.” Could Kennedy follow this dazzling reading? Could ZaBach?
The answer may be that
Nothing Else Matters
a slow and expressive number. Garrett’s vibrato remains tight and fast in pieces like these (so, in a way, did ZaBach’s), creating an impression of two dimensions rather than three (I tried to make a lame analogy hobble a little more quickly in explaining this to my wife: Fiddlers, even good ones, usually seem to remain in one dimension instrumentally; jazz and pop violinists expand to two, and violinists like Heifetz, for example, extend to three. Florian ZaBach always projected all three, even in his weakest moments, as in
—not the piece that made him famous, but a knock-off). If “Zorba’s Dance” brings Garrett into a somewhat different relationship with his audience,
, again one of Garrett’s own, raises the level of his artistry, as did
. Similarly, ZaBach always seemed best in his own numbers, like
sports a middle section in pizzicato, a technique that featured prominently in ZaBach’s
. The concert proper concludes with a compelling reading of
A Whole New World
. That the program seems too short must be a very strong recommendation, and Decca has remedied it by supplying two “bonus” tracks, beginning with Bach’s Air (not played on the G string). One of my first experiences with the violin involved listening to Elman play the piece (on the reverse side of his 78 of Schubert’s
), and I still think of Milstein’s version as nearly definitive. Perhaps appropriately, Garrett deploys his tight vibrato almost as an ornament, which it certainly must have been in the era that saw the work’s origin.
provides perhaps the most direct comparison between Garrett and ZaBach. In this case, Garrett’s styling seems reducible to a number of devices that he employs in a more mannered way that recalls another German pop violinist, Helmut Zacharias.
I found out that
had been playing that day as I wandered through the bookstore. In the very first number,
Smells Like Teen Spirit
, despite the piece’s origin, it could be an extract from an eclectic contemporary violin concerto; while the tune and accompaniment may not sound classical, the violin playing certainly does; and Garrett approaches here the kind of sound that ZaBach produced in his albums, albeit in the service of a very different musical ethos. Here again, he plays lots of double-stopped rhythmic patterns, presumably at the bow's frog to create an extra-percussive effect.
begins atmospherically, and the lyrical strain with which the solo subsequently enters sounds very stylish and highly nuanced in ZaBach’s manner—and virtuosic in anybody’s manner.
blends Beethoven’s symphony by the same number with pounding rhythmic figures. Again, as my wife noted, he’s canny enough to cross over at a shallow point in the stream, with music that his mixed audiences should find familiar. Here the accompanying ensemble almost overwhelms the solo part, and that’s a shame because what emerges of Garrett’s contribution sounds vibrant and vital.
Walk This Way
, with its rhythmic patterns, again approaches ZaBach’s hair-raising rhythmic sensibility. Toccata refers to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; and while Garrett preserves much of the original’s structure, he’s shoved it across the stylistic line. As might be expected, it transfers very well (it’s been said that Bach would sound good on kazoos). It’s virtuosic and exceptionally exciting, even amid this collection. The next selection,
Vivaldi vs. Vertigo
, sets excerpts from the
(“Winter”) in a rock context, with lots of special effects and vocal backgrounds. Why did this work when Red Priest’s similar attempts to cross over resulted, at least in my opinion, in shipwreck? Perhaps because Garrett goes from one end entirely to the other and doesn’t stop in between, in his case, sprinkling stardust on the way.
Master of Puppets
doesn’t turn out to have a very prepossessing solo part, but
Live and Let Die
provide opportunities for lyricism that could display a finely honed tone and nuanced approach (even if the nuances have necessarily been updated since 1950).
Live and Let Die
also weaves in some of the highly rhythmic elements for which Garrett seems to display so strong a feeling.
, despite its classical origin, continues in the strong rhythmic vein, this time distinctively Spanish—and distinctively virtuosic. Here again, the ensemble tends to overwhelm the brilliant solo. The program concludes with
, a piece that includes a classical sounding melody that Garrett by turns wails and declaims; in neither mode, many might feel, does he reach the level of expressivity he achieves in so many of the others.
Florian ZaBach represented something unique and perhaps groundbreaking among violinists a half-century ago: an instrumentalist turning a thoroughly classical orientation to good use in another genre (Menuhin tried with Stéphane Grappelli but couldn’t quite pull it off). Garrett seems to direct much of his effort to kids (although he drew a mixed audience for the concert on the DVD above); Florian’s audiences, even in the beginning, would have been, I’d guess, in their late-20s to early-40s. Maybe that’s why he didn’t carry his audiences along with him more than about a decade and a half. But Garrett brings them into the stream, then reels them in on his gossamer line. At whose feet would violinists rather sit? I know where I’ve placed my lawn chair for now. But if Garrett can do for the violin what so few others have accomplished, let alone attempted, I’d be willing to move it a good distance in his direction. The DVD suggests that it’s not yet time; the CD suggests that that time might not be far away. Both recommended: the DVD with moderate enthusiasm, the CD with a great sense of excitement. We all need what Garrett and his kind can do for us—move us all back into the consciousness of mainstream listeners.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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