TIME Magazine, February 2, 1962, p. 40:|
The Best Violinists
...According to an awed contemporary, the great Italian Virtuoso Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) startled his audiences with eyes "as red as fire" and eyeballs that rolled in agony. The legendary Paganini (1782-1840) was accused of deliberately playing on frayed strings so that when one snapped he could demonstrate his virtuosity on three...
Isaac Stern belongs to a breed of violin virtuosos who blend the elegant techniques of past masters with a warm understanding that elevates virtuosity into art. But Stern's violin (a Guarnerius) still belongs to the breed that Paganini played-- and remains a remarkable recalcitrant instrument*... Stern and four other greatly gifted players have lifted the solo violin to an eminence that any age could envy. Standing with Stern as the world's finest: Zino Francescatti, David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifetz.
[ISAAC STERN, 41,] ...made his Manhattan debut at 17 ("I wasn't the greatest thing since Mozart"), but had to wait seven more years before he was able to start a successful concert career. Now an almost compulsive concertizer, he is rarely in his Manhattan duplex, averages a brain-fogging 125 concerts and recitals a year.
..."I don't want to be known only as a violinist," Stern once said. "I want to be a player of music-- one whose instrument just happens to be the violin."
ZINO FRANCESCATTI, 56, is a lineal musical descendant of Paganini: his Italian-born father, who emigrated to Marseille to become concertmaster of the local symphony, had studied with Paganini's only pupil. Fritz Kreisler happened to play in Marseille when Francescatti was a boy; and the youngster never got over it... he would be a fiddler. He made a successful Paris debut in 1925... his U.S. debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1939. His sweet and singing tone and his flowing, sinuous style were an immediate success. Francescatti summers at his villa on the Riviera, seldom plays more than three concerts a week when he is touring. "They know me at my best on my records," says he. "This is what they want to hear, and they are right."
DAVID OISTRAKH, 53, was already a legend before he briefly left Russia to conquer the U.S. in 1955. Son of a poor Jewish bookkeeper in Odessa, he started playing a one-eighth-sized violin when he was five, supported his family as a wandering fiddler after graduation from the Odessa Conservatory. With his 1935 victory in the Leningrad Concours and a 1937 victory in the first Brussels violin concours, he became the leading violinist of Russia. Western audiences were delighted by his warmth and humor...
A romantic of the old school, Oistrakh favors far slower tempos than most modern violinists, often imbues the music of Brahms, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky with the sort of kindling warmth that has reminded many a listener of Oistrakh's early idol, Fritz Kreisler. Whatever he plays-- classics or occasional moderns, Oistrakh exudes conviction. "When the difficult parts come," says Violinist Francescatti, "he does not try to go around them. In fact, he shows you how difficult they are. He slows down, and this is the honesty of a great artist."
NATHAN MILSTEIN, 57, another native of Odessa, was a student of famed Hungarian-born Leopold Auer at the St. Petersburg Conservatory... Milstein left for Paris in 1925, gave concerts with an old Russian friend, Pianist Vladimir Horowitz... The keynotes of great Milstein performances are their flash and fire. Milstein is willing to take chances-- on trip-hammer tempos, flashing colors, amazing fluctuations in volume...
JASCHA HEIFETZ, 60, is considered by many of his associates to be the greatest violinist living. Says Oistrakh: "There are many great violinists, but Heifetz, he is in a class by himself." Ever since Heifetz made his astounding debut in Carnegie Hall when he was 16**, two generations of record listeners have luxuriated in the luscious Heifetz tone, making its creator one of the biggest sellers-- 1,700,000 albums-- in classical-record history. The Heifetz left hand, in its agility and strength, is unsurpassed, and it enables him to play with a fleetness and accuracy that so astounded Arturo Toscanini when he first heard Heifetz that he reported, "I nearly lost my mind."
* "It is not like the piano, whose tone is kept in tune by the tuner," Jascha Heifetz once complained. "Playing the violin is all guesswork; you cannot even scratch a mark on the wood so you can tell where to put your fingers to repeat the right note."
** A performance that called forth a classic exchange. Violinist Mischa Elman: "It's hot in here." Pianist Leopold Godowsky: "Not for pianists."
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