Viktoria Mullova Goes for Baroque

It’s rare for violin soloists to drastically rethink their approach to a composer, leaving behind two contrasting recordings of the same music. But that’s exactly what happened over the course of 15 years with Viktoria Mullova’s interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin. Following the release of a spectacular 1994 Philips recording featuring a modern interpretation, Mullova re-recorded solo Bach in 2009 on the Onyx label, this time with …

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Grumiaux’s Cosmic Bach

When NASA launched the unmanned Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1977, it included a Golden Record featuring a sampling of music from Earth. One of the recording’s excerpts is J.S. Bach’s Gavotte en rondeaux from Partita No. 3 in E Major, performed by legendary Franco-Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986). Regarding the record, astronomer Carl Sagan said: The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this …

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The Elegant Artistry of Arthur Grumiaux

Elegance, good taste and a beautiful, bell-like singing tone were all characteristics of Franco-Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986). In contrast to today’s relatively homogenized violin playing, Grumiaux exhibits a distinctly French style. Listening to Grumiaux, I’m also struck by the musical honesty and lack of fussiness in his playing. His musical phrases speak with a purity and simplicity which is hard to come by today. In his book, Great Masters of the …

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Mozart’s Wordless Operas

Listening to Mozart’s symphonies, concertos and chamber music, you might get the sense that you’re hearing wordless operas. Even without a libretto, we can sense distinct characters, musical conversations and dramatic situations unfolding in the music. It’s as if the innovative and prolific composer of The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute couldn’t shut off the flood of opera arias and duets entering his mind. As a musician I have found that approaching …

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Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor

Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor, Op. 3, No. 6 is well known to all Suzuki violin students. Vivaldi (1678-1741) contributed to the development of the violin as a solo instrument, dazzling audiences throughout Europe with shocking new sounds. He wrote over 500 concertos. For many years Vivaldi also directed the female music ensemble at Ospedale della Pietà, a school for orphaned girls in Venice. Let’s compare two excellent but contrasting performances. The first is a …

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Ravel Writes the Blues

French impressionist composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) found inspiration in the American jazz, which was sweeping Paris in the 1920s. At a time of prohibition and racial discrimination in the United States, many African-American jazz musicians settled in Paris, enjoying its liberating cosmopolitan energy. Additionally, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and other young American composers came to study with eminent composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. Here is what Ravel said about the potential of the new musical …

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Oistrakh Plays Tchaikovsky

What better way to end the year than with a few rare old recordings by the legendary Russian violinist David Oistrakh (1908-1974)? Listening to these clips, which range from solo to chamber repertoire, it’s easy to hear why Oistrakh is regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time. There is a deep musical sincerity and a powerful sense of humanity in his playing which transcends the ordinary. In the fastest …

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