Monday, 2 May 2016

Tempi in Mozart, and Arabella Steinbacher

My good friend Lee Cheng Hooi compiled an interesting chart showing the timings of Mozart violin concerto movements as played by Arabella Steinbacher, Frank Peter Zimmermann, and Arthur Grumiaux. Tempo is an interesting conundrum and, as is well known, stopwatch timings tell only half the story. In my view, a tempo usually feels too fast or too slow if it is chosen because:
  • “at this speed, everyone will think I am a great player”
  • “at this speed, everyone will think I feel deeply about this music”
  • “this is the speed I think (or, more arrogantly, I know) Mozart et al would have expected”.
A tempo usually seems right if it is the tempo the player feels suits the music best. Jascha Heifetz's rapid tempi usually suit me fine, since it is obviously the tempo Heifetz felt to be right at the time. Similarly, I am (usually) impressed with Arabella Steinbacher's tempi, even when, on average, she takes half a minute or more per Mozart movement compared with Zimmermann or Grumiaux. Coming back to Arabella, I find I really enjoy her performances of Mozart's 3rd, 4th and 5th violin concertos; I would characterise her playing as relaxed. She seems to be enjoying playing what she plays, and overall enjoyment is helped by the superb Pentatone recording, and the contribution of the Festival Strings Lucerne led by Daniel Dodds. An enjoyable experience. On order I have yet another CD of Mozart violin concertos, to be played this time by Kristof Barati; he'll have a job to do better than Arabella, who is a lovely violinist in all senses of the phrase.

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