: Ignatius, Berlin Radio SO/Jalas.
Varèse Sarabande LP (OP)
Bell, Paul Coker. Decca 444 409-2
Op. 12 Pinchas Zukerman, St Louis SO/Slatkin RCA
Op. 17 (arr Heifetz) Itzhak Perlman, violin; Sanders,
Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
. Heifetz, RCA SO/Steinberg
Sarasate Spanish Dances
, Op. 21, #1&2. Y.Sitkovetsky,
B.Davidovich. Melodiya LP (OP)
Wieniawski Caprice Cadenza
in a, Op. 10 #7. Yulian
Sitkovetsky. Melodiya LP (OP)
Steven Moeckel was principal soloist with the Vienna Boys’ Choir,
studied violin at the Salzburg Mozarteum, at nineteen becoming
co-concertmaster of the Ulm PO. After further study at Indiana
University with Miriam Fried he became concertmaster of the Tucson,
Arizona, SO in 2002, winning the Sibelius Competition in 2005.
He is currently concertmaster of the Phoenix, Arizona, SO. Paula
Fan earned a doctorate in accompanying and has appeared throughout
the world, in the 1980’s helping to reintroduce Western
music to China. She is currently pianist with the Tucson SO and
Regent’s Professor at the University of Arizona School
These are crisp, bright, American-style performances, affecting,
but not sentimental, clear, brilliant but not brutal. It is refreshing
to hear the Wieniawski, Sarasate and Kreisler pieces played straightforwardly,
lyrically, respectfully. These works can certainly bear this
level of attention and one’s appreciation of the music
is increased. It is refreshing to hear “real music” by
Elgar and Sibelius included alongside these virtuoso display
chestnuts; the comparison is enlightening. While most composers
may be keyboardists, Elgar and Sibelius were violinists. As a
result their music tended to be more horizontal than vertical,
more horizontal than was/is fashionable, and every few decades
there is a movement among fanatic Adornistos to expel them from
the ranks of the “great composers.” Alex Ross does
not include either one of them in his recent survey of 20th Century
music “All the Rest Is Noise.” Sorry, Alex. Elgar
and Sibelius are not noise.
There are many violin and piano recitals available on CD but
none I am aware of that emphasize Elgar to this degree. The title
of the album comes from the dedication of the Violin Concerto,
Elgar’s “other enigma” : “Aquí está encerrada
el alma de ..…” (Herein lies enshrined the soul of …..)
- the meaning of the five dots never revealed by Elgar. According
to Wikipedia, the phrase is a quotation from the novel Gil
by Alain-René Lesage. Violinist Moeckel agrees
with Michael Kennedy that it is possible that the soul of the
violin itself is what is so enshrined, but other candidates are
Elgar’s friends Alice Worthington, Vera Hockman, or, the
odds-on favorite, Alice Stuart-Wortley.
In the Kreisler pieces, Bell plays more sentimentally, Moeckel
more relaxed and lyrical. Those who find the Bell performances
fussy or mannered will appreciate the freshness of Moeckel, but
they are equal in skill and assurance. Han’s piano is more
closely recorded and her playing more assured.
It may seem unfair to compare performances with orchestral accompaniment
to those with piano accompaniment, but clearly Moeckel plays Salut
with more lilt and more portamento, Zuckerman
with more vibrato. Moeckel is again more relaxed and lyrical,
whereas I find a certain tension in Zuckerman’s approach.
The rich closeness of Moeckel’s recorded violin sound is
a plus here.
The version of the Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo
with piano accompaniment has much to recommend
it over the orchestral version. The intimate interplay between
the two instruments means you always hear the violin; it is never
swamped by the orchestra. I heard here for the first time a little
musical joke on Rossini that Saint-Saëns slipped in on us,
a joke that had always been overwhelmed in previous hearings
by the large orchestral sound. And, it takes ability and courage
for the violinist to play this difficult music so exposed.
Jascha Heifetz was one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth
century, some would say THE greatest. He was a unique stylist;
he had a unique tone, instantly identifiable. He had his detractors
who said he sounded “cold” and on occasion heard his
tone to be raw and off-pitch. His way to play was not the only
way to play, witness some other great violinists of the twentieth
century: Oistrakh, Perlman, Menuhin, Auclair, Kogan, Martzy —who
sound quite different, as does Steven Moeckel. Like Menuhin,
Heifetz played his best before the advent of high fidelity; although
his surviving modern recordings are magnificent, they are somewhat
below the summit of what we would have heard live in the thirties*.
Some people will listen only to Heifetz. The 1951 Heifetz recording
of the Saint-Saëns is a unique, magnificent accomplishment.
One can love that recording as I do and still find a great deal
to enjoy in hearing the work played by Moeckel and Fan.
Regarding the delightful, rarely performed Sibelius Humoresques
the definitive classic recording is the one conducted in 1954
by the composer’s son-in-law, Jussi Jalas, with the solo
part played by Anja Ignatius. The bad news is that it’s
only been available on LP, and out of print for a generation.
Moeckel’s performances are entirely comparable, this piano
version, again, offering a closer perspective on the violin and
a more immediate response from the accompaniment than from the
In La Capricieuse
Perlman plays a more dramatic, theatrical
performance, Moeckel more intimate and lower key.
Gil Shaham has honed his technique to razor sharpness and staked
his claim to the works of Sarasate in this time. Moeckel plays
with no less agility, a little more sweetness and a more intense
sinuous quality. I think my favorite violinist overall is Yulian
Sitkovetsky, previously only to be heard on old Melodiya LPs.
Recently Artek has released an “Art of Yulian Sitkovetsky” series
on CD; I have not heard these transfers. Sitkovetsky did not
record any of the pieces on this disk, but my impression is that
he could blow Shaham and Bell completely out of the water on
Wieniawski, Sarasate and Kreisler. It might be a little closer
call with Moeckel. Sitkovetsky offers a little Eastern darkness
in tone and style to contrast with the brightness of the younger
The obligatory jazz/folk/blues/popular encore selection has been
a fixture of, at least, American violin recitals for at least
a century, going back via Heifetz to Maud Powell and probably
before. Again it is a pleasure to hear it played forth lyrically,
authentically and respectfully, without gimmicks or hype.
*Among living violinists Ruben Aharonian, first violin of the
Borodin Quartet, is very similar to Heifetz in style and ability.
He evidently prefers to record only chamber music; but if he
took on the great orchestral concertos on the international stage,
I think he would sound uncannily like Heifetz and could easily
equal Heifetz’s accomplishments in this area, in modern