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Violin Virtuosos Paganini to 21st Century Hardcover – 1 Apr 1999

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 396 pages
  • Publisher: California Classics Books (1 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1879395185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1879395183
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 22.9 x 29.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,461,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Dec. 1998
Format: Hardcover
It is, of course, admirable that Roth takes great effort to write articles of so many violinists. It can be used as a reference to dates and such information. But still, the book could have been more rightly named "WHAT ROTH THINKS ABOUT VIOLINIST from Paganini to the 21st century". As Mr Perng writes in the above customer review, Roth seriously does have biases. If you agree with Roth, good. If you disagree, that's when the trouble starts.
For instance, also as Mr Perng has pointed out, Roth worships Heifetz. Being strong admirer of Milstein (I cannot say I hate Heifetz though), I must say this. Roth writes to say why Heifetz was more famous (or played better,as Roth strongly suggested) that Milstein. But those points were exactly those which made Milstein renowned for! They are Milstein's straightforward musical approach, aristocratic tone, "more people seem to want to play like Heifetz than Milstein", and most of all, Milstein's refusal to play music that was popular (or that "sell") which happened to be what he didn't like. How many artistes will stand up for such a belief these days? These reasons were those that made people like me, and especially the Viennese (who by the way, hate Heifetz)admire him! With such comments, Roth can frustrate the reader.
But with superb pictures and select discography (careful of his comments - use them only as a guide), I found it still all right to buy the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 April 1999
Format: Paperback
Roth's book is an incredible survey of many of the greatest violinists, including some who are becoming forgotten by my generation.
It is true that his opinions are sprinkled throughout, including his irritating comments about on-off vibrato.
In case readers haven't noticed, it's a crime that he has lumped all women violinists together into a short section and essentially belittled their contributions. Kyung-Wha Chung and Anne-Sophie Mutter both offer more than, say, Pinchas Zukerman will ever amount to.
To his great credit, he helps to introduce some wonderful insights into the playing of Henryk Szereng, Leonid Kogan, and Arthur Grumiaux (along with several others). This book is a must for every violin lover in an effort to remember and preserve the memories of these great musicians. Roth also is relaying a message to the next generation of violinists: help preserve the art of violin performance, but remember that musicianship and honest communication are of the utmost importance.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Opinions of an expert 6 Jan. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this comprehensive volume, Mr. Roth focuses on the great violinists' PLAYING and recordings, rather than on biographical information. Since he is a professional violinist and critic with tremendous experience, many of his viewpoints are insightful and edifying. For instance, he convinced me that Paganini, as well as all the legendary violinists of the 19th century, probably didn't play as well as we imagined. A violin student can learn a lot from reading this book, e.g. he can try to emulate and assimilate all the merits of each great violinist.
Yet, because the thrust of this book is his evaluation of the violinists' playing, he cannot avoid being subjective. For example, his ears are hypnotized by the tone and vibrato of Heifetz and Kreisler. He thinks that one should use vibrato for every note in a lyrical passage, and he believes that a white vibrato-less note has absolutely no expressive power. Therefore, he criticizes many violinists, including Oistrakh, for using vibrato in an "on-and-off" manner.
After reading this book, I had the IMPRESSION that Mr. Roth's list of the greatest violinists ever PROBABLY goes something like this:
=1. Heifetz =1. Kreisler 3. Oistrakh 4. Szeryng 5. Perlman 6. Kogan
He also greatly admires Szigeti, Grumiaux, as well as Menuhin and Elman (in their youth).
Among today's younger generation of violinists, he probably thinks Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Maxim Vengerov, Sarah Chang, and Leila Josefowicz are the most promising.
I wrote the above assumption to give you an idea of Mr. Roth's taste. But even if you disagree with him, this book is still worth reading. It provides much valuable information you'll not find elsewhere, including opinions expressed by the greats themselves and a vast survey of the violinists' discography. Though Roth's comments are inevitably subjective, his professional observations can be taken as a reference, especially when you've got to understand his tastes. Of course, if you dislike Heifetz, you can pretty much ignore most of his adulations.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Careful: Roth's opinions dominate the book 17 Dec. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It is, of course, admirable that Roth takes great effort to write articles of so many violinists. It can be used as a reference to dates and such information. But still, the book could have been more rightly named "WHAT ROTH THINKS ABOUT VIOLINIST from Paganini to the 21st century". As Mr Perng writes in the above customer review, Roth seriously does have biases. If you agree with Roth, good. If you disagree, that's when the trouble starts.
For instance, also as Mr Perng has pointed out, Roth worships Heifetz. Being strong admirer of Milstein (I cannot say I hate Heifetz though), I must say this. Roth writes to say why Heifetz was more famous (or played better,as Roth strongly suggested) that Milstein. But those points were exactly those which made Milstein renowned for! They are Milstein's straightforward musical approach, aristocratic tone, "more people seem to want to play like Heifetz than Milstein", and most of all, Milstein's refusal to play music that was popular (or that "sell") which happened to be what he didn't like. How many artistes will stand up for such a belief these days? These reasons were those that made people like me, and especially the Viennese (who by the way, hate Heifetz)admire him! With such comments, Roth can frustrate the reader.
But with superb pictures and select discography (careful of his comments - use them only as a guide), I found it still all right to buy the book.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A must for violin lovers 30 April 1999
By J. Kim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Roth's book is an incredible survey of many of the greatest violinists, including some who are becoming forgotten by my generation.
It is true that his opinions are sprinkled throughout, including his irritating comments about on-off vibrato.
In case readers haven't noticed, it's a crime that he has lumped all women violinists together into a short section and essentially belittled their contributions. Kyung-Wha Chung and Anne-Sophie Mutter both offer more than, say, Pinchas Zukerman will ever amount to.
To his great credit, he helps to introduce some wonderful insights into the playing of Henryk Szereng, Leonid Kogan, and Arthur Grumiaux (along with several others). This book is a must for every violin lover in an effort to remember and preserve the memories of these great musicians. Roth also is relaying a message to the next generation of violinists: help preserve the art of violin performance, but remember that musicianship and honest communication are of the utmost importance.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An essential, though sometimes frustrating, book for violin aficionados 6 Dec. 2009
By Alan M. Silbergeld - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is essential to anyone who seriously listens to contemporary and historical classical violin recordings. Essential not because it is complete (far from it) or because it presents incontrovertible information, but because there is nothing as up-to-date and comprehensive that provides both essential biographical and historical information about so many important violinists and critical evaluative surveys of their performance and recorded legacies.

Obviously, the book has its biases, both as to the comparative importance and historical standing of the great and near-great violinists and as to the performing styles on which such judgments are based. Roth clearly considers Heifetz head and shoulders above any violinist since Ysaÿe; quite a few aficionados prefer other modern performers to Heifetz because of his fast tempi and perceived emphasis on technique over emotional expression. But biases are in the nature of such criticism. After all, what is this book, if not musical criticism?

The book's strengths, beyond the obvious factual information, lie in three areas.

First, in Roth the critic's in-person observations from attending concerts and recitals of the performers, either from well-preserved notes taken over much of a lifetime or from a remarkable memory (I don't recall Roth saying which basis the criticisms rely on).

Second Roth's evaluations (subjective, obviously) of many of the recorded performances of the violinists he covers are invaluable, if not always indisputable. Exhaustive research would be needed to pull together critical evaluations of as many recordings as Roth comments upon.

Third, it brings to mind many performers who have by now either been more or less been forgotten or are almost unknown in the west because their careers were behind the Iron Curtain and who thus get overlooked in the discussion of violin performance at a high level. (If Benno Rabinof and Julia Krasko were on your radar screen before reading this, you deserve a medal for achievement in violin performance history trivia!) More importantly, he occasionally touches on a truly master fiddler and musician, such as Bronisl'aw Gimpel, who never achieved the recognition he deserved, but gets it from Roth. (If you doubt this, seek out the CD that contains Gimpel's performances of the Bruch, Dvor'ak and Goldmark violin concerti and see if you don't think he belongs among the greats.) Without Roth, it would never have occurred to me to hunt for evidence of Gimpel's worthiness.

The book's weaknesses are not trivial. Some slights are inexplicable. Two of the great violinists of the Twentieth Century, the Frenchman, Christian Ferras, and the Israeli, Ivry Gitlis, get a mere single mention in passing. It is hard for me to imagine any list of the greats from that era that excludes Ferras, and a good argument can be made for Gitlis. Similarly, though he evaluates at some length a number of worthy major orchestra concertmasters who also had significant careers as soloists and recitalists (Tossy Spivakovsky is an excellent example), he does not even mention two - Gerhard Taschner of the Berlin Philharmonic during most of WW II and Wolfgang Schneiderhan, leader of the Vienna Philharmonic for 14 years and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra before that - who left some wonderful recorded evidence of their high merit as soloists. (He does mention, unfavorably, Schneiderhan's cadenza to the Beethoven concerto, but not the man as a performer).

Perhaps there are valid reasons for some of this. Possibly, Roth never heard Ferras, Gitlis, Taschner or Schneiderhan in person, thus could not afford them the same treatment he gave his primary and secondary subjects. Perhaps he simply ran out of time or space to cover every deserving violinist. Perhaps his method of limitation was to focus primarily on American and Soviet performers. But the omission of Ferras as a primary subject is hard to fathom. The knowledgeable reader may find these shortcomings frustrating. I certainly did. The same shortcoming extends to contemporary performers. For instance, the fine German violinist, Isabelle Faust, was far enough along in her young career by the time this book was finalized to have merited at least as much mention as the many Asian and Asian-American prodigies that Roth mentions as watch-worthy.

Other criticisms could be made. The point about female violinists made by two of the previous reviewers is a serious one. On that subject, Erica Morini and possibly Gioconda deVito deserved inclusion with the twenty chose for primary biographies. And one can differ from Roth on many points. For instance, Guila Bustabo, the American woman violinist, was far more than a temperamental artist. She left ample recorded evidence of genius.

Shortcomings aside, however, nothing else approaches the Roth volume. It leaves Margaret Campbell's volume "The Great Violinists" in the dust with its approach to evaluating violin performers. Any violin aficionado who acquires this book will keep it next to his or her collection of fiddle recordings and refer to it often - I guarantee it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Professional, erudite, yet slighly biased critiques. 4 Sept. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
No other person might be more suited to write this book than Mr. Roth, professional violinist, pedagogue and music critic, who has attended innumerable concerts featuring from Kreisler and the 12-year-old Menuhin to young modern violinists such as Josefowicz, including many relatively obscure Soviet violinists. He has also been acquainted with many great violinists, thus providing more invaluable information. And from reading his book, one may conjecture that the author owns thousands of violin CDs--but missed several superlative discs, which will be mentioned later.
One must credit Mr. Roth for his encyclopedic survey of the violin playing of hundreds of violinists, in which he assesses their merits, demerits and style, major recordings, as well as their backgrounds and lives. He apparently puts great emphasis on slides, position changes, and vibrato, which he analyzes and depicts microscopically. Printed examples of Ysaye's unique bowings and fingerings--he had studied under an Ysaye pupil--and Kreisler's expressive devices are especially priceless. And one can be sure that he is not a worshipper of Toscanini, for he stresses individuality.
Yet one must be reminded that despite his massive experience, these writings are still 100% subjective opinions, not facts. It is palpable that he is a fanatical partisan of Kreisler and Heifetz, but perhaps only one violinist was portrayed utterly flawless--Josef Gingold, the author's friend who wrote the foreword ("There can be no higher goal to which a young violinist can aspire than to pattern his or her life and career in the image of Josef Gingold" (226)[.]). And apart from many contentious issues, he had, for all his erudition, made some glaring mistakes.
Example 1: He apparently doesn't know an iota about Baroque bows: "[Szeryng's] organ-like triple-stops and chordal playing sound almost as if he were performing with a Baroque bow." (183) Szeryng's stupendous ability to play chords simultaneously and gorgeously would have been useless were he holding a Baroque bow, which can only play two strings at a time. Mr. Roth need only listen to Sigiswald Kuijken's recording of Bach with Baroque instruments (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi) to instantly realize his error.
Example 2: He states that Stern has never recorded the complete Beethoven sonata cycle (193). This is clearly wrong. Stern had recorded them in the late 60s and early 80s, and the complete cycle was released by Sony in 1996 (the book was published in 1997).
A few of his many highly controversial (or ignorant) remarks:
Rabin's Paganini caprices: "impeccable . . . collectively are fully equal to, or even possibly surpass any recorded before or since" (277)[.] Milstein's Dvorak concerto: "a perennial favourite among professional violinists" (135)[.]
Perlman's Korngold concerto: "I do not know of any living violinist who can perform this work as effectively as heard on this CD." (225)
Perlman's Wieniawski concerto No.1: "bristles with awesome finger and bow command; only Rabin's is comparable." (225)
To me, it is inconceivable that anyone, after meticulously comparing Midori's recording of the Paganini caprices (released in 1989) with that of Rabin, would not say Midori's is much superior technically, tonally, and artistically. The same can be said of Midori's Dvorak concerto (1989), compared with Milstein's, as well as Shaham's Korngold (1994) and Wieniawski (1991) concertos, compared with those of Perlman.
I was even more outraged when I read the following:
it can be said without fear of contradiction that Heifetz had far fewer off-nights than any other violinist. Because his basic standards were so high, even below par he was closer to perfection than any of his colleagues in live unedited performance. (108)
and
these pieces [Brahms's Hungarian Dance No.5, Dvorak's Humoresque, Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, Gershwin's Bess, You Is My Woman Now, Schubert's Ave Maria, etc.] essentially belong to Heifetz and are best passed over by other violinists. (193)
The proofreading of this book gave ample evidence that it was the first edition. For instance, toward the end of the ninth paragraph on p.147, some words were obviously missing. One can pinpoint other annoying occasions wherein brackets were dropped, word sequences reversed, and ridiculous things such as "etc.." appeared.
The above criticism notwithstanding, this book, with over 330 pages of text and photos, written by an extraordinary man--whose English writing (or boasting)skill is no less impressive than his violinistic experience--is still a precious reference for violinists and violin lovers.
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