Sunday, 25 November 2012

Three Violin Recitals

Over the last week of so, various friends have sent me a number of CDs, including violinists, of course. Over the last few days I listened to Rachel Barton Pine, Konstanty Andrzej Kulka, and Ingolf Turban.

Kulka – recorded around 1980 – plays a phenomenal Devil's Trill, Ysaÿe's Ballade sonata, two pieces by Wieniawski, and Paganini's Nel cor più. All the pieces are superbly played, but I take exception to the Paganini since Kulka seems fit to add an entirely spurious and unnecessary piano part; the piano plunks away, adding nothing to the music, but spoiling the violin line. At one time this sort of thing was all the rage; Mendelssohn provided a piano accompaniment to Bach's solo violin works, Schumann to the cello suites … and to the Paganini caprices. Kreisler used to play solo Bach with a piano, and Heifetz the Paganini caprices with a piano. But it is highly undesirable, not on the dubious grounds of “authenticity”, but because Bach and Paganini were perfectly capable of writing for solo violins and cellos.

Ingolf Turban is not someone whose playing I have met often before. On a CD called “solo” he plays 13 works for solo violin, including Nel cor più, thankfully without a piano. He dispatches all 13 works efficiently and with aplomb but, to my ear, without love and without affection. A typical case is Ricci's arrangement of a Spanish Ballad, which in Turban's hands becomes an exercise in ricochet bowing, at great speed.

Barton Pine also includes the Spanish Ballad (albeit in a different arrangement). Her CD is called “Capricho Latino”. Her playing seems to have improved in the twenty years since I found her Sarasate recital disappointing. The Spanish Ballad (known also to we oldies as the theme tune from the film Jules et Jim) is played with expertise, but also with affection for its haunting melody. My main gripe with Barton Pine's disc is that, of the 14 tracks, too few are of really attractive music; she concentrates mainly on music written post-19th century, and this really was not a good time for violin vignettes (apart from those of Fritz Kreisler). So Tarrega, Ysaÿe, Quiroga come off well, but much of the rest is musically sub-standard (do we really need 10 minutes of Ferdinand the Bull, with narration?) My “go on to the next track” button was quite busy. It does, of course, make a change from the endless repetitions of Schön Rosmarin and Banjo & Fiddle; but could she not have found some better pieces to include?

Three discs providing a mixed bag, then. But Kulka's Devil's Trill stays in the mind; the piece is a violinists' old warhorse, written to show off the violin and violin technique, and tongue out to those earnest critics who want it played in an “authentic” manner, without Kreisler's marvellous cadenza, to boot.

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