Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Violin Basics, a series of short videos


Violin Basics

When I'm teaching, no matter what the ability of the student, the same technical basics continually crop up. Their priniples are the same, whether employed by a beginner or an advanced student. An example is the bow distribution, the stretch of bow to be used in a particular musical circumstance. The ability to use an appropriate length of bow stroke and vary its weight and position between the bridge and fingerboard, requires development from the word go and that development continues throughout the violinist's lifetime.

Other such basics are the bow hold, the left-hand shape, tuning, playing in time, playing at the required tempo, the development of sight reading, the ability to be expressive with dynamics, vibrato, tone colour and variation of tempo. All of these and more are relevant to the beginner and the advanced student alike.

So, I have begun to produce a series of short video podcasts, each on an individual topic and each of relevance to all students of the violin. The series is called 'Violin Fundamentals for All'. I've designed these presentations to be of relevance to all students as the principles in each topic are always the same no matter what the student's level of ability. The aim is that the violin student will be able to choose a particular skill and learn 'how to improve it' from the advice and demonstrations that I present.

Find my Youtube channel and hit the subscribe button for notifications of when each video is published.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Symphonies of Youth & Maturity

I'm reviewing here two collections of symphonies, the first a set of String Symphonies composed by Felix Mendelssohn, begun by him at the age of eleven, and five symphonies of Camille Saint-Saëns, the 'French Mendelssohn', the first numbered symphony of Saint-Saëns begun at the age of fifteen.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, The Complete String Symphonies, also includes Concerto for Violin and Strings in D Minor, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, c. Henry Raudales, 3 CDs, BR Klassik

 There are twelve symphonies in this set and listening through them reveals the composer's self-development beginning with C.P.E. Bach, then, in No. 4, comes an experiment with the French overture, developing on further as the composer's skills and knowledge widenened, until come works with the four movements of the classical symphony. The later numbers all have their own form, such as No. 12, with its initial fugue and an expansive final movement. All are a joy! The Mendelssohn family dining-room concerts revived a tradition of 'house music', not only for amateur guests but, increasingly professional players who took part in this intimate setting. It's a mistake to binge on these symphonies - my recommendation is for listening to just one or two at a time to imbibe their full musical flavours.


Saint-Saëns, Complete Symphonies, Malmö Symphony Orchestra, c. Marc Soustrot, 3 CDs also includes Le rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31, La jeunesse d'Hercule, Op. 50 & Danse macabre, Op. 40, Naxos

The label of 'French Mendelssohn' implies a light and inventive touch, clear in these works from the word go. Only the composer's 'Organ Symphony' (No. 3), is well known, the others should be equally so. Two of the five symphonies have no catalogue number, but this certainly does not make them any the lesser. The Symphony in F Major was a prize-winning competition entry with a wonderful final movement of theme and variations. The symphony in A Major is the first, dated 1850 and is a tribute to Mozart. If you wish Mozart had given us more beyond his final 'Jupiter' symphony, let this satisfy your appetite.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Reviews: In the Mood

Nothing can replace the experience of live music. There are, however, some pluses inherent in recordings. There is the obvious, that the choice is infinite. There is another that I'm appreciating more these days and that is the ability to choose listening material to suit your mood. Sometimes I like listening to Bruckner. Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood. Choosing what one listens to can be an interesting, self-reflective process. Here are my new CD recording choices that provide a widespread array of genres. Something here for everone, to coin a phrase.


Richard Strauss, Complete Tone Poems, boxed set of five CDs, Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, c. François-Xavier Roth, SWR Classic

The symphonic poem represents the step beyond the classical symphony, appearing in places where composers were creating a national music.These by Strauss are, for me, always a treat, full of quiet moments of repose, soaring strings and powerful brass, not to mention the endless themes and motifs. Simply the best! An addition to this is Strauss's musical epitaph, Metamorphosen, scored for 23 solo strings.

Bruckner, Symphony No. 6, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, c. Mariss Jansons, BR Classic

Choose your moment to listen to this carefully, for like all Bruckner's symphonies it is a massive listening undertaking. Commit for three quarters of an hour of intense symphonic outpouring, a relatively short symphony for Bruckner. His symphonies always adhered to the same symphonic form, but within that framework are exploited all the endless possibilities.



Girolamo Frescobaldi, Unpublished Music from Chigi Codices, recorded at the organ of Basilica palatina di Santa Barbara in Mantova, organist, Ivana Valotti, Tactus

These are beautiful short pieces of atmosphere, a stream of spiritual delight on the old organ (1565) of the Mantova Basilica. The time period from whence these came is, in music, the beginning of Baroque experiment and innovation, when Frescobaldi, from Ferrar, played a leading role in shaping the language of keyboard music.


Théodore Dubois, Piano Quartet in A Minor and Piano Quintet in F Major, CPO

Piano, Oliver Triendl; Violin, Nina Karmon; Oboe, Stefan Schilli; Viola, Anja Kreynacke; Cello, Jakob Spahn

The chances are, this French composer is new to you. Born 1837, died 1924, known in France as a composer-organist, Dubois was born in rural Champagne and his musical life developed as a child in Reims at the cathedral. These are Elgarian pieces without the angst, perfectly formed. They are so dated, but in a nice way! The oboe in the quintet is a relatively rare instrumentation so adds that little something to the experience. Easy to picture these pieces performed over 100 years ago, surrounded by the French equivalent of Victorian paraphenalia, dress, decor.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Reviews: Schizophrenia and the Sublime

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), Symphonies 1 ('Classical'), 2 and 3, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, c. Andrew Litton, published by BIS

The first of the Prokofiev symphonies is short and to the point, a delightful point which is of classical perfection, hence the appended title. The second contains an extreme contrast with no holds barred and in its relationship with the first appears completely schizophrenic, as if pent up rage finds its way out before being contained prior to the next outburst. In the third, the balance between containment and release is achieved and so, as a listening experience, is less alarming. Oft-times you can hear the great force of Russian industry and militarism at play, then come periods of the composer's inner world of reflection, even calm. 


Anton Rubinstein (1829-94), String Quartets, Op47, No 1 in E minor and Op. 47, No 3 in D minor, the Reinhold Quartet, published by CPO

These two quartets are more classical than classical can be! If you are in the mood for surprise and stimulation then go for the Russian Prokofiev. If not, turn the late night lights down low, sit back and chill to these delightfully formed and expressive pieces. The Russian Rubinstein's career as a composer was overshadowed by his success as a virtuosic pianist, conductor and educator, particularly as Tschaikovsky's composition tutor, so his name may be familiar but experience of works such as these may be lacking. While Beethoven penetrates deep into the musical psyche, these quartets play with it in perhaps a Mozartian way even though they are clearly post-Beethoven.

The cover artworks on these two CDs are well-chosen expressions of their content, the first a Russian utilitarian graphic expressing power counterbalanced by artful expression, the second a seemingly peaceful idyll brimming with strong emotion.