Absolutely on violin music, 1

The title of this blog is a variation on the title of the book “Absolutely on Music” by Haruki Murakami. The book contains very interesting conversations of Haruki Murakami with his friend Seiji Ozawa. A conversation between a professional (Ozawa) and an amateur (Murakami) on the performance of classical music. The motto of the book is: “Like love, there can never be too much `good music’. The number of people who use it as a fuel to recharge their appetite for life is beyond counting.”.

Encouraged by this book, I will describe my views on six pieces for violin and piano I recently (September 22, 2017) performed with “my” pianist Neville Schaefer for a big audience at Hasselt University, Belgium, between lectures at a colloquium in honour of professor Paul Janssen, who became professor emeritus around that time.

It is a very nice habit of the Belgian scientists to have musical intermezzi between lectures of managers and, more generally, people high in the hierarchy of the University at such occasions. In fact, if I would not have been playing myself, but just been in the audience, I would have been looking forward very much to the next musical intermezzo during these speeches. In our case, we played two pieces at each intermezzo. And as in the book “Absolutely on Music”, there was a professional (Neville Schaefer) and an amateur (myself) involved.

We started with the Sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis. At least that is how the piece is known. But this is rather apocryphal, probably the composer is Samuel Dushkin (friend of Stravinsky) and it is quite likely inspired by the Larghetto from the first violin sonata composed by Carl-Maria von Weber. Here is an interpretation of the latter piece on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Edo9lDxh3Iw

And here is a somewhat faster interpretation of the Weber Larghetto:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zltvvMIpFc0

The latter interpretation is one of a series of (in my view) rather remarkable youtube  interpretations by an unknown violinist (amateur or professional?).

There is an abundance of interpretations of the “Sicilienne by Maria Theresia von Paradis” on youtube. Here is a fast one by Nathan Milstein (as always excellent):

And here is the unknown girl from the Weber Larghetto again:

There is also a very beautiful interpretation of Jacqueline du Pré on the cello:

I now come to the second piece we performed, Rameau’s tambourin in a transcription of Fritz Kreisler. For this piece there are really a lot of interpretations available! There is a rather slow one by Isaac Stern with the Liszt chamber ensemble and there are two interpretations of Fritz Kreisler himself, a fast one and a slower one. Here is the slower one (but still a lot faster than Isaac Stern’s interpretation; the tambourin starts at about 1:44; the recording is from 1910!):

The unknown girl from the pieces mentioned above has of course a version on internet:

Some points here: on the violin one can choose between making glissandi (“portamenti”) here or to avoid doing that and even alternate between between making a portamento and not making a portamento in repeating the same figure. In general one will find the old choices in youtube (so following Kreisler’s habits). Also, one can perform the rather amusing trills in different ways (as is also done by Kreisler in his fast version of this piece).

I personally like another old version by Jacques Thibaud, which is very “free” (and has as bonus a really virtuosic performance of a well-known caprice of Wieniawski – which I actually played as a violin duet myself). Thibaud skips a part of the score, an action which would be frowned upon nowadays, but which does not seem to be entirely unreasonable in the present case. Notice the heavy portamenti!

To be continued….

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