Playlist: Hall of Fame 2017 violinists

James Jolly Mon 1st May 2017

Fiddlers who tug at the heartstrings

Of this year’s new entrants into our Hall of Fame, 50 per cent are violinists – and a wonderfully varied and contrasted group they are too. Surely one of the greatest of the great violinists, Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) melts the heart with his immediately recognisable, sweet tone, his wonderfully enveloping way with phrasing and his unique use of portamento. It’s a style that’s associated with the Viennese way of playing and it certainly has something of the easy elegance of the pre-war Austrian capital. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in his own Liebesleid. Nathan Milstein (1903-92), born in Odessa and a pupil of both Leopold Auer and Eugène Ysaÿe, takes us into another glorious age of violin-playing. Purity of tone and astoundingly accurate intonation, combined with a suppleness that gave his playing an amazing fluidity, were hallmarks of his art: try him, fleet of finger, in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. The Belgian Arthur Grumiaux (1921-86) was a player who, once heard, was never forgotten: here is a violinist with every technical and musical resource at his disposal but who always put the music first. In Mozart he is exquisite but he could toss off the most fiendish of fireworks with utter aplomb. Sample his glorious account of César Franck’s Violin Sonata with Paul Crossley. Still very much with us, and on terrific form at 70, is the Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer. He recorded all the great concertos as a younger man, and nowadays spends more time playing chamber music or working with his splendid Kremerata Baltica. Kremer’s vividly spontaneous, almost improvisatory approach to his chosen repertoire – often it really does sound like the music has been freshly composed – sets him apart from many of his colleagues. It captures the very reason we go back, time after time, to hear the same piece played by different musicians: the music speaks to us differently through different players. His ‘New Seasons’ album is well worth a listen. Kyung Wha Chung, a year younger than Kremer, has given us some of the finest modern accounts of the core works of the violinist’s repertoire. And she remains a player of style, elegance and emotional power as her recent set of solo Bach wonderfully reveals.

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