The greatest test for a violinist? The Paganini caprices? Bach's Chaconne? The Beethoven or Brahms violin concertos? No. The greatest test is to hold the attention of a listener for 60 minutes or so of violin short pieces / vignettes / salon music. Few pass the test; few have the range of sound, variety of bowing, palette of colours, variation of dynamics, to hold our attention for more than 20 minutes or so in vignettes by Kreisler, De Falla, Sarasate, Achron, et al. So I was more than happy this weekend to sit back and listen to Fritz Kreisler, Tianwa Yang, and Michael Rabin -- all playing short vignettes. Jascha Heifetz was missing; another master of the vignette.
The third volume of Tianwa Yang in Sarasate's music for violin & piano (the sixth volume in a projected eight volume set) is like a good thriller; you read to the end of the chapter ... and then "just one chapter more before I stop". No problem in listening to Miss Yang (playing Sarastate, at least) for 60 minutes.
Michael Rabin aged 10 years old; Michael Rabin in 1961 in an EMI recital not released (for some reason or other); Michael Rabin in Bruch and Brahms at the end of his short life in 1971-2; playing that has you glued to every note, with a smile of recognition, even when he was only 10 years old.
And then on to Volume IV of Naxos's complete Fritz Kreisler recordings that covers the years 1916-17, and 1919. In 1916 Kreisler, just turned forty years old, was at his peak. It is difficult to think of better renditions of the pieces on this CD, even given the acoustic sound of the time. After America's belated entry into the 1914-18 war in November 1917, Kreisler became an "enemy" in American eyes and his way back in 1919 was via popular American showbiz-type recordings with a primitive orchestra conducted by such as Josef Pasternack, a forerunner of people like Donald Voorhees. No better, nor no worse, than popular "artists" such as André Rieu or Nicola Benedetti de nos jours. Fortunately, Kreisler returned later to Europe to record the classical repertoire in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Rabin, Kreisler and Heifetz ... and Ms Yang in Sarasate .. can hold a listener's attention for a good hour. This cannot be said of too many other violinists, alas.