Paganini Meets Rossini: “I Palpiti”

If the Top 40 popular song charts had existed in the early nineteenth century, they would have been dominated by the melodies of opera composers such as Gioachino Rossini. Today, popular music is distributed through recordings. In the nineteenth century, music distribution came in the form of arrangements and adaptations. Rock star virtuosos such as Niccolò Paganini and Franz Liszt drew on these melodies in the form of paraphrases. Paganini’s Variations on I …

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Bach’s Musical Offering: The Ricercars

J.S. Bach’s monumental chamber music collection, Musikalisches Opfer (The Musical Offering), was inspired by a momentous meeting. It began on May 7, 1747 when Bach met Frederick the Great in Potsdam. At the time, J.S Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, was employed as one of the Prussian King’s most prized musicians. Frederick gave the elder Bach a tour of his palace, showcasing his vast collection of instruments, among which was a novel new keyboard …

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Brahms’ Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Klemperer, and the French National Radio Orchestra in 1960

This is one of those recordings that reminds us why David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians. The Soviet violinist’s 1960 studio recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française makes us forget about violin technique. Instead, we’re left with pure music. Every phrase “sings” with the ultimate sincerity. My former teacher, the Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa, …

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Paganini Meets Szymanowski

  Niccolò Paganini’s Twenty-four Caprices were written for solo violin between 1802 and 1817. Each features one or two distinct technical challenges for the violin. In 1918 the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) radically transformed the 20th, 21st and 24th caprices by adding piano accompaniment. Listen to the original Caprice No. 20, which opens with a simple melody accompanied by a D string drone. Then listen to Szymanowski’s slightly haunting version, which drips with an opulent pre-war Viennese …

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From Russia With Love

  From Russia With Love is a collection of violin and piano miniatures, recorded by violinist Oleh Krysa and pianist Tatiana Tchekina. The CD focuses on Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky. Here are a few spectacular excerpts from the CD: A transcription of Masks from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet: The haunting waltz from Prokofiev’s ballet, Cinderella, arranged by Mikhail Fichtenholtz: Russian Song, transcribed from Igor Stravinsky’s opera, Mavra, by Samuel Dushkin. Listen to the almost …

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Brahms Recordings, Old and New

Last year, Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos recorded the Brahms Violin Concerto. On March 31, Kavakos and pianist Yuja Wang followed up with a new recording of the three Violin Sonatas by Johannes Brahms. Here is an excerpt of Kavakos playing the stormy Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108. This CD is another exciting addition to an already vast collection of classic and recent recordings of this music, including performances by Stefan Jackiw, Anne-Sophie …

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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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