Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE ARTISTRY OF JOSEF GINGOLD
Josef Gingold (vn); et al.
ENHARMONIC 03-015, analog (2 CDs: 157:11) Live: 1941–79
LALO, SCHUBERT, ARENSKY, MAEKELBERGHE, BLOCH, FRANCAIX, BEETHOVEN, MOZART, TCHAIKOVSKY, YSAŸE
Josef Gingold, erstwhile concertmaster of the Detroit and Cleveland orchestras and professor at Indiana University, appears in Enharmonic’s collection, compiled by his son, George, and grandson, David (who also served as a recording
engineer), in transcriptions of acetates taken from broadcasts, in live appearances, and on unreleased recordings, all spanning more than a quarter of a century (1941–68), as well as in an interview originally broadcast on KYW on January 17, 1957, “upon Toscanini’s death.” The quality of the recorded sound varies, but that’s not the point of the collection. Co-compiler George explains that he didn’t want to rerelease performances previously available on either LP or CD, and that he avoided, except in the case of Arensky’s Trio, chamber works (except, obviously, those for violin and piano). Gingold had studied the violin with Eugène Ysaÿe, as did Ernest Bloch, so the inclusion of Bloch’s Sonata No. 1 (accompanied by Mischa Elman’s sister) and an ensemble performance of Ysaÿe’s Third Solo Sonata by Gingold and a handful of his students, should hold special interest among violinists and collectors, as should, in fact, the entire collection. But that’s putting the cart before the horse.
The program opens with the slow movement of Lalo’s
in an intensely heartfelt performance that identifies Gingold as a concertmaster with a soloist’s personality and the ability to project it. In this movement, his tone glows in the lower registers and could cut steel in the upper ones.
In Schubert’s Sonat(in)a in A Minor, Gingold, 26 years after the performance of Lalo, seems lusher in concept than in tone; perhaps due to the somewhat brittle quality of the recorded sound, he sounds edgier (though still rich, as before, on the G String) than he did on the acetate transcriptions. But that tone nevertheless seems to share some of the intense focus and electricity of Heifetz’s, despite Gingold’s general geniality.
George notes his father’s fondness for Arensky’s works, among which he taught the trio and the concerto. The acetate transcription of a broadcast from May 25, 1941, provides the earliest snapshot of his playing in the collection (George suggests that it’s among his earliest recordings of any kind), and the only one in the set to present him in a chamber setting. The announcer describes the ensemble, including cellist Harvey Shapiro and pianist Earl Wild, as the “NBC Trio”—George explains that Wild had played, like Gingold, in Toscanini’s orchestra (as a pianist, of course). The recorded sound, generally very good for its medium and era, occasionally includes a great deal of extraneous noise from either surface imperfections or static. Gingold, perhaps sitting closer to the microphones than his colleagues, seems from time to time to dominate the ensemble, at least tonally, as the performance surges through the
, though generally the group plays with disciplined unanimity. The Scherzo showcases Gingold in piquant off-the-string bowings, as well as in ardently singing
, before the announcer interrupts the performance. The notes identify August Maekelberghe as a Detroit church musician and suggests that the performance of his Aria took place during 1946 or 1947, when Gingold served as concertmaster of Detroit’s orchestra.
The recording of Bloch’s 1920 Violin Sonata comes from 1938—DM 498; RCA Victor never rereleased it on either LP or CD, though the recorded sound seems more than satisfactory. George remarks that his father “was at his best” in 19th-century music, but also “championed” 20th-century compositions as well. His virtuosity in the sonata’s first movement, his rhapsodic musing in the slow movement—growing increasingly impassioned toward the end—and his headlong rush into the finale (which grows increasingly meditative) all help shape a vibrant performance that may not jump through the speakers, especially at the beginning of the last movement, as I mentioned that Isaac Stern’s old performance on LP did (Columbia ML 6117 and MS 6717), but seems urgent on its own terms (especially as the movement gets underway) and in its earlier, less-vibrant recorded sound.
Heifetz recorded Jean Francaix’s Trio from 1933 with Joseph de Pasquale and Gregor Piatigorsky in 1964. The sprightly, roughly 10-minute Sonatine from the next year (1933) presents a lighter side of Gingold’s musical personality. It originally appeared on Friends of Music 25 and the transfer includes a great deal of surface noise. Its bristling first movement, more somber second one, and its elegant theme and variations allow Gingold to evince, with Mischa Elman’s sister, Lisa, a subtle, understated manner almost diametrically opposed to that of Bloch’s sonata. The two sparkle in the first movement as well as in the finale’s brisk variations, while they sound elegantly cool in the Andante.
George mentions that Beethoven’s Violin Concerto represented the “ultimate in violin music” for his father, and selected his performance from two—the other coming from the mid 40s with Detroit’s orchestra. In this one, he’s accompanied by the Ohio State University Orchestra, a student group that, George claims, rises “to the occasion.” The engineers placed Gingold front and center, but not too far forward; still, it represents the orchestra’s depth more faithfully than it transmits any glow in Gingold’s sound. Gingold makes an occasional gesture in the first movement that suggests a mastery that isn’t apparent in his playing of the movement as a whole, which, because of the uneven quality of the recorded sound, because of the uncertainty of the orchestral playing, or because of what seem like rough passagework and questionable intonation here and there (though not in the stunningly virtuosic cadenza), raises the question of how the earlier recording in Detroit might sound. Similar problems beset the slow movement, Gingold’s performance of which the notes describe as being, for nuance and beauty, equal to the best. He begins the finale robustly, if a bit roughly; similar rough patches recur during the movement’s plentiful passagework. The note writer expresses a hope that this performance may inspire violinists to strive for this kind of elegance, but though Gingold may have striven for elegance here and encouraged its development among his students, elegance doesn’t seem like the strongest recommendation of this performance; the last movement’s energy and the strength of some of the first movement’s patterned passages seem like more striking assets.
The slow movement of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante comes from an acetate of a broadcast. Carlton Cooley played the solo in Toscanini’s recording of
Harold in Italy
, and Gingold and Cooley, miked much closer than the orchestra in this case, seem to collaborate smoothly, producing a glowing performance. Both play with tonal luster, musical penetration, and rapt attention to the music’s dialogue, transcending in combination the recorded sound’s limitations.
Another acetate from a radio broadcast of Tchaikovsky’s
comes from August 13, 1942, and in this transcription, Gingold’s tone, so close up as almost to be in front of the speakers (not to mention the orchestra), veritably throbs, while the expressive devices he employs hit their marks—Heifetz’s white-hot version (or Elman’s cherry-red one) has little if anything over it, except perhaps for the drawback that Gingold doesn’t play the climax in octaves.
The group performance of Ysaÿe’s Third Solo Sonata (Prokofiev intended his Solo Sonata for just such unison performances in a studio setting) with students Andrés Cardenes, William Preucil (also now a concertmaster), Aaron Bitran, Steve Starkman, Elaine Klimasco, and Herwig Zack from October 28, 1979, might seem limited in its appeal to violinists and aficionados, yet it may be of surprising interest for others to hear how effective the opening measures’ ascending sound in unison and how bold the ensuing statements appear in this setting. Then again, because the ensemble isn’t always perfect—how could it be in music of this difficulty and rhythmic fluidity?—it may put others off.
For those who honor Gingold’s memory and appreciate his contribution to the present day’s violinistic culture, this tribute should be a most welcome celebration. Recommended most strongly to such collectors.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Josef Gingold (Violin)
Ohio State University Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Aria by August Maekelberghe
Josef Gingold (Violin)
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