Remembering Lydia Mordkovitch

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Lydia Mordkovitch (1944-2014)

Russian-born violinist Lydia Mordkovitch passed away earlier in the week. She was a student of David Oistrakh and served as his assistant in the late 1960s. In this interview she talks about her Russian musical roots and the influence of Oistrakh’s teaching.

Mordkovitch emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1980. In 1995 she joined the faculty of the Royal Academy of Music. Her extensive discography on the Chandos label includes music of English composers (violin concertos of Arnold Bax, William Alwyn and George Dyson) and Max Bruch’s seldom heard Second and Third Violin Concertos.

Listening to a sample of Lydia Mordkovitch’s recordings, I was struck by the soulfulness and honesty of her musicianship. While many contemporary violinists seem to sound alike, her tone was distinctive. The Loure from J.S. Bach’s Third Partita (the second movement in the final clip below) is an example of Mordkovitch’s singing approach to sound and wide array of tonal colors.

Strad Magazine offered the following description in a 2009 review of Mordkovitch’s CD of Russian violin music:

To hear Lydia Mordkovitch at the peak of her interpretative powers is like being thrown back half a century when the likes of David Oistrakh, Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin held sway…She has never believed in half measures and here every note is played to its maximum expressive potential, whether it is a raging violin fortissimo or a gentle viola pizzicato.

Here is the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 63 with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra:

Olivier Messiaen’s Thème et variations was written in 1932 as a wedding gift for the composer’s first wife, violinist Claire Delbos:

Here is Mordkovitch’s 1987 recording of J.S. Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin No. 3 in E:

Joshua Bell’s Bach Album

Unknown-24Joshua Bell released his newest album yesterday. The CD, simply titled “Bach”, is Bell’s first recording collaboration with the London-based Academy of St. Martin in the Fields since becoming the orchestra’s music director in 2011.

If you’re expecting another predictable round of Bach concertos, you may be surprised. This album includes the monumental Chaconne from Partita No. 2 with Mendelssohn’s rare piano accompaniment (adapted for orchestra), as well as Schumann’s accompaniment of the Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita No. 3. It’s not the way you would want to hear solo Bach every day. In fact, Mendelssohn’s addition practically turns the Chaconne into a completely new piece. Still, these offerings fall to the category of historical curiosity and are worth exploring.

It’s the A Minor and E Major Violin Concertos which make this recording stand out. The connection between Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields feels more like chamber music than a violin solo with orchestra accompaniment. There is incredible attention to detail, balance, and sense of dialogue. In the haunting second movement of the E Major Concerto, the bass line converses with the solo violin, while long sustained chords in the violins suggest an atmosphere of mystery. Bell occasionally adds ornaments and captures the joy of the Baroque dance-like rhythms. Air on the G String is also included. “Bach” is available on iTunes.

The release of Joshua Bell’s CD coincided with his return to the Washington D.C. metro yesterday. This time, unlike his extensively publicized 2007 experiment, commuters recognized him and stopped to listen.

You can hear Bell with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in this clip of the final movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. Also, listen to him play the Bach Chaconne in its original, unaccompanied form:

Grumiaux’s Cosmic Bach

NASA included a "Golden Record" on the Voyager interstellar mission.
NASA included a “Golden Record” on the Voyager interstellar mission.

When NASA launched the unmanned Voyager 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:

[quote]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 ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.[/quote]

Voyager 1 continues to drift into the vast cosmic expanse. Yesterday it was 127.19 AU (1.903×1010 km) from Earth. In 40,000 years it will be within 1.6 lightyears of Gliese 445, a star in the constellation Camelopardalis, which flickers faintly in our northern sky.

Following up on last Friday’s post, The Elegant Artistry of Arthur Grumiauxlet’s listen to a few of Grumiaux’s exquisite Bach recordings.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Partita No. 3 in E Major[/typography]

We’ll start off with the Preludio and Gavotte en rondeaux from the E Major Partita. A Partita is an instrumental suite of Baroque dances. While some violinists take the Preludio at breakneck speed, Grumiaux’s noble and slightly slower interpretation allows every note to speak.

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[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Concerto in A minor[/typography]

Here is the complete Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041. Notice the sense of a heartbeat in the ostinato bass in the second movement. The final movement is a gigue:

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[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Concerto for Two Violins[/typography]

Herman Krebbers plays the second violin part in this 1978 recording with Les Solistes Romands and conductor Arpad Gerecz:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord[/typography]

Here Grumiaux joins Christianne Jaccotte for Bach’s six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord:

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James and the Giant Peach

Last week, one of my students pointed out that there is a violin playing grasshopper in James and the Giant Peach, the 1996 film based on the book by Roald Dahl. Here is a scene from the movie. If you’re familiar with this scene and you’ve always wondered what the grasshopper is playing, it’s the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3. Here is a great performance by violinist Ilya Kaler: