Pugnani’s Largo Espressivo: Three Classic Recordings

Chances are good that you’ve never heard of Gaetano Pugnani (1731-1798). The eighteenth century Italian violinist and composer of numerous chamber works and operas has long been overshadowed by his more esteemed contemporaries, Mozart and Haydn. He may be most famous for a piece he didn’t even write: Fritz Kreisler’s Preludium and Allegro, a showpiece originally attributed to Pugnani as part of Kreisler’s elaborate musical hoax. (Kreisler’s Tempo di Minuetto also erroneously bore Pugnani’s name). …

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Beethoven’s Ghost

When you hear the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1, you’ll immediately understand why this piece earned the nickname, the “Ghost” Trio. It’s some of the most eerie, strange and terrifying music ever written. It constantly keeps you off guard, taking sudden and unexpected turns, like a shadowy apparition which is there one minute and gone the next. As the second movement unfolds, it may play …

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Hiro Kurosaki Plays Handel

You may be familiar with classic recordings of George Frideric Handel’s Violin Sonatas by Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein, Henryk Szeryng and Szymon Goldberg. For the most part, they’re all Romantic performances, emphasizing a large, singing tone and lots of vibrato. For a slightly different take, add to the list an excellent 2003 Baroque recording by violinist Hiro Kurosaki and harpsichordist William Christie. No one knows if Handel actually wrote all seven of the sonatas on this disk. A …

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Remembering Abram Shtern

Legendary Ukrainian violinist and teacher Abram Shtern passed away last week at the age of 96. Shtern was concertmaster and professor in Kiev before emigrating to the United States in 1990 and settling in Los Angeles. He represented one of the last direct links to the tradition of Leopold Auer, the teacher of Heifetz, Milstein and others. For much of his career, Shtern stayed out of the spotlight, but he was deeply …

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Carmen Fantasies

Georges Bizet’s Carmen remains one of opera’s most popular hits, partly because of its rich and exotic melodies. These melodies were the inspiration for Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, written in 1883. In the nineteenth century, composers commonly used opera melodies as a springboard for new virtuoso showpieces. At the time, arias from Carmen and other operas would have fallen into the category of “popular music.” Franz Liszt wrote a  Fantasia on two themes from Mozart’s …

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Beethoven’s Violin Concerto

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 set the standard for all violin concertos which followed, but you might not have known it at the first performance on December 23, 1806. According to legend Beethoven finished writing the solo part so late that Franz Clements, the violinist who gave the premier, was forced to sight read part of the concerto in the performance. In addition, Clements may have performed one of his …

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A Question of Timing

Timing is an important element in music as well as comedy. A great comedian knows how to build up to the punch line of a joke . Similarly, great composers have an intuitive understanding of proportion in music. They know how long to repeat an idea before moving on. They allow the music to unfold organically in a way that seems “right”, as if the piece is composing itself. As musicians, we …

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