The Art of Violin
Itzhak Perlman, Hilary Hahn
Franz Schubert (Dresden)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Number of Discs:
1 Hours 53 Mins.
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
A magnificent survey on film by a master documentarist of a century of violin playing.
The best of Bruno Monsaingeon's video productions marry a film maker's technical expertise with a musician's instinct, and in the context of The Art of Violin both qualities register more or less from the start. Within minutes, Itzhak Perlman is telling us that most of the 'old-world' violinists 'sounded different' from each other. No sooner has he spoken, than Monsaingeon provides the evidence. He splices us from a 1958 David Oistrakh film of Mendelssohn's Concerto to Isaac Stern in 1957, Christian Ferras in 1963, Fritz Kreisler in 1927 (a charming shot of silent film with the 1935 commercial recording as its soundtrack) and Nathan
Milstein in 1966. Then there's Yehudi Menuhin in 1979 and 1947 (under Dorati), Arthur Grumiaux in 1961. Jascha Heifetz in 1959 (the RCA recording with overlaid film footage) and, perhaps most interesting of all, Mischa Elman in London in 1962. And yes, they do all sound different - very different. But what is the technical mechanism that turns these interpretative differences into sound? The interview evidence is as detailed as one could wish given the breadth of Monsaingeon's targeted audience. The principal commentators are Perlman, Ivry Gillis, Ida Haendel, Menuhin and Hilary Hahn, all of them inspired to frequent eloquence and unflagging enthusiasm.
There are in effect two films. The first, 'The Devil's Instrument', contains some of the most interesting archive footage, the second, 'Transcending the Violin', veers more in the direction of specific instruments and overall musicianship. Menuhin stresses the self-destructive properties of soulless virtuosity - and it's appropriate that the closing footage should give us the last section of Bach's Chaconne as played by Menuhin at Gstaad in 1972 - quite marvellously, I might add. Earlier on, he offers an extraordinarily beautiful account of 'Erbarme dich' from Bach's St Matthew Passion, recorded in Hollywood in 1947.
Prior to Menuhin's Bach, we experience the piercing gaze and musical intensity of Ginette Neveu as she burns the closing pages of Chausson's Poeme onto our memories. We see Szigeti dispatch Schubert's The Bee framed by apposite commentary from Haendel, Perlman and Gitlis. Elman's preoccupation with sound for sound's sake comes in for some stick, though the evidence is ravishing and his own claims that the new generation owes a certain debt to the old, is both honest and justified. We see him wearing what looks like eye-liner for a 1920s sound fihn of Dvorák's Humoresque as well as in a glorious snippet of Tchaikovsky's Concerto from 1932. A brief prodigy section gives us the 12-year-old Ruggiero Ricci playing part of Vieuxtemps' Fifth Concerto - amazing stuff - and the long-forgotten Boris Goldstein performing Kreisler, beautiful in terms of tone but a trifle rigid in its delivery. The tragic case of Michael Rabin, who died from a drug overdose in 1972, comes freshly to life via a scintillating live Tambourin chinois. An Electrecord recording of Enescu's Third Violin Sonata with Enescu himself as soloist (and Dinu Lipatti at the piano) accompanies silent footage of the composer-violinist and Zino Francescatti, praised by Gitlis for his Mediterranean warmth, throws off Bazzini's La ronde des lutins with the aplomb of Heifetz.
We see rare silent film of Ysaye and valuable sound film of Jacques Thibaud, Leonid Kogan and Henryk Szeryng. And there are the surprises. For example, Perlman's attitude to Szeryng (and to a lesser extent Hilary Hahn's), which is guardedly negative. Both view Szeryng as a beautiful player who's lacking in character. Perlman puts it on the line. 'He sounds like everybody,' he says.
Henryk Szeryng: his beauty of shape and tone often failed to disguise a lack of individuality 'If I'm listening, and I don't know who it is...I think, oh, it must be Szeryng...'. I suppose there has to be one exception to prove the rule, an Szeryng was one of the few great violinists of the older generation whose playing style was more generalised than the colourful norm. Still, I doubt that there's a better stereo version of Schumann's Violin Concerto, than Szeryng's. Nathan Milstein is seen and heard, cool as ever, in Bach and Paganini. An English interviewer asks him why so many Jewish executive musicians are exceptional, and Milstein replies that he knows quite a few who aren't. It's not race, he says, it's conditioning. Good point. Gitlis challenges the myth of Heifetz's coldness - brought about, in the main, by a chilly stage persona - by asking us to close our eyes as we listen while Perlman compares Heifetz's beautiful sound in concert with his more aggressive, close-up recordings. We see snippets of a 'staged' Heifetz recital, which has long circulated in private hands and where a bunch of college kids race through the campus shouting 'Hey guys, Heifetz is giving a free concert!' It was the bargain of a lifetime, especially Wieniawski's simply fantastic Polonaise. Monsaingeon's Trinity consists of Heifetz, Menuhin and Oistrakh, with Isaac Stern a nearby fourth contender. Perlman compares 'Heifetz the god' with Menuhin, 'an angel come down to earth', a befitting image. Oistrakh and Menuhin are seen embracing and playing Bach in Bucharest (under George Gheorgescu?), and Oistrakh plays Khachaturian's Violin Concerto under both Kyrill Kondrashin and the composer. We also see him tackle the huge transitional cadenza from Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, calmly first, then with slowly mounting intensity. While watching Isaac Stern in action (in Brahms's First Sonata), my wife commented how every component in the music sounded securely glued together. 'it's absolutely airtight, structurally sound,' she said. I couldn't have put it better myself.
You'll already have gathered the tremendous amount of pleasure that these films have given me. Their appeal lies not only in the footage, which varies in quality though never in value, but also in the well-edited commentary (so much wisdom and good humour) and the range of topics covered. It's a pity that Monsaingeon couldn't find any film of Adolf Busch or Bronislaw Huberman, though he did have a good try. Violin lovers will be in seventh heaven, but what's perhaps more important is that non-specialists should enjoy the experience almost as much.
– Gramophone [5/2001], reviewing the original release of this video, NVC Arts 85801
Running Time: 113 minutes
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64: Excerpt(s) by Felix Mendelssohn
Mischa Elman (Violin),
Yehudi Menuhin (Violin),
Fritz Kreisler (Violin),
Isaac Stern (Violin),
David Oistrakh (Violin),
Christian Ferras (Violin),
Nathan Milstein (Violin),
Arthur Grumiaux (Violin),
Jascha Heifetz (Violin)
Written: 1844; Germany
Work(s) by Fritz Kreisler
Boris Goldstein (Violin)
Work(s) by Various
Ida Haendel (Violin),
Ivry Gitlis (Violin),
Henryk Szeryng (Violin),
Jacques Thibaud (Violin),
Leonid Kogan (Violin),
Eugčne Ysa˙e (Violin),
Hilary Hahn (Violin),
Itzhak Perlman (Violin)
Work(s) by Johann Sebastian Bach
Yehudi Menuhin (Violin),
David Oistrakh (Violin)
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Violin Artistry December 10, 2011
By Nancy Rappaport (Denville, NJ) See All My Reviews
"The rendition of Embarme Dich is incomparrable,it brings me to tears."