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Quality Pag. caprice recordings?


Kelley
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Michael Rabin was 16 when he recorded the caprices and they should be heard for historical reference. His recording has youthful vigor but not the accuracy or maturity of Perlman's account. However Kaler does the impossible by making them sound like music instead of virtuoso excercises.

He is not hurried, almost painfully slow in parts and yet he makes it clear that this is not due to lack of technique. He just reserves the fireworks for where it is most appropriate.

He has my vote for top interpretation.

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The Mintz is an excellent recording. Rabin also made a later EMI recording of the Caprices (in 1958 so I guess he would have been 21 or 22). This is considered by many to be the ultimate Caprices recording of all time and much better than his earlier teenage account. I have this 1958 recording and it is simply unbelievable. He is close miked in a dry acoustic and it is almost like he is only a few feet away from you demonstrating them. Amazing playing. And the sound of his Del Gesu - so close up - is awe inspiring. Turn it up on a good hi fi system and he is right there in the same room with you.

There is a story that Cho-Liang Lin used to tell. When he started at Juilliard he heard the most incredible playing of the Paganini Caprices ever - emanating from one of the nearby dormatories. As he went closer to the door to see who was playing, he was wondering what he had gotten himself into by going to Juilliard, since he realised that he could not play any where near that good. He thought that if other students were playing like that, what hope did he have? Anyway, he knocked on the door and much to his relief, the violin playing was actually the LP of that 1958 recording. Needless to say, Mr. Lin was very much relieved.

A great modern recording of the Caprices is James Ehnes's debut recording and the only one he ever made for Telarc. Amazing playing too - probably the best of the "new generation" accounts.

Incidentally, Perlman plays a few of them in the new "rediscovered" CD. This was his very early 1965 RCA recording. That is incredible playing too, although he only recored three of them at the time.

Anyway my Caprice picks are Rabin, Ehnes, Mintz and Perlman.

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So what don't you like about the Kaler interpretations?


I actually like those interpretations. The problem is to my ears the recording is far too reverberant. It just isn't a realistic sounding acoustic at all. Sounds like it was recorded in an empty aircraft hangar or they went knob-happy with the Lexicon. The Mintz and Ehnes are far better recordings from an engineering perspective. Kaler's actual playing seems to be splendid, but since I am offering opinions on a recording I feel it is important to weigh up both the musical performance and the technical aspects of the recording itself.

I also understand the Ehnes recordings were unedited and done in one take. Pretty darned impressive.

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I haven't heard the recording in question, but Kaler is plenty fine in live performance. I had the chance to hear him play some Paganini when he was teaching in Bloomington and it would be hard to find fault with either his interpretation or his mastery of the instrument.

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Ah. I didn't realize we were discussing engineering sound quality. My mistake.

Isn't this a minor consideration when assessing the relative merits of major violinists?


Yes it is, but the subject of this thread was quality Paganini Caprice recordings. The operative word being recordings. When recordings are reviewed the engineering has to be taken into consideration. Recordings are a team effort and unfortunately in Kaler's case the engineering is a real let down. His recording has to be pitted against far better engineered recordings where the actual performances are least as good as well. I don't have anything against Kaler's playing per se, but quite honestly in my opinion, Rabin, Ehnes, Perlman and Mintz play them better (especially Rabin) and their recordings are much better technically as well - even the 1958 Rabin one is way better.

When I add recordings to my own library I take into account the whole recording. If it is a bad recording then I want to find compensating features to make it stand out from the others. A compensating feature might be rarity, historical value, an extraordinary, high calibre performance that stands clearly out from the rest, etc. For me, the Kaler recording does not meet any of these criteria.

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It's interesting how the same words can mean different things to different people. I didn't interpret 'Quality Pag caprice recordings' as being restricted to engineering issues.

It is generally accepted that one of the greatest 'recordings' of all time was Menuhin's early recording of the Elgar by EMI, the considerations being the pure musicality of the interpretation, the fact that the movements were recorded in a single take without splicing and the number of copies sold over the last 60 years or so.

It would never win any prizes for recording technology, nothing of that vintage would, but that doesn't prevent it from being an historic landmark deserving of a place in everyone's collection.

I wonder how many of the caprice recording currently under discussion will survive the test of time?

The main criteria seem to be technical accuracy and breathtaking speed by the latest wunderkind to step up to the microphone.

I didn't realize they were musically profound until I heard Kaler play them.

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Hi Glenn,

I agree with much of what you say, however your point about the Menuhin recording gets back to my point about the historical value. You have cited the reasons why that recording is considered "great" and that falls into my criteria of the historical value outweighing the fact that it was recorded in 1932. I have the Albert Sammons recording which of course is of very poor quality technically speaking. But for me, the heartfelt performance outweighs the engineering and technological issues. I mean, logically, what right do I have to judge a Menuhin or Sammons recording on the basis that when they were in their prime, recording technology was extremely poor? On the other hand, why can't I judge the Kaler recording along with it's peers that all used the same digital technology. There is no excuse for a poor recording technically speaking nowadays. If one engineer does a far better job than another, then that engineer deserves the credit. Otherwise what is the point of going to all the trouble of putting the names of the engineers, balance engineers and editors on the sleeves of CD, or having internationally recognised awards for their efforts? A recording is a team effort.

There is so much competition amongst players nowadays and quite honestly most of the better professional players of today can despatch the Caprices without even raising much of a sweat. The competition of today did not exist back in the old days. If you wanted an "authentic" Elgar concerto, you either got Menuhin or Sammons. Nowadays if you want a Paganini Caprice recording there are so many to choose from that it is bewildering.

And just to clarify, my opinions regarding Paganini Caprice recordings is certainly not "restricted to engineering issues". What I have said repeatedly is that unless a musical performance is a real standout from the rest of the bunch, then I certainly will take engineering into account. For me at least, the Kaler performance does not deliver anything that Rabin, Ehnes, Mintz or Perlman cannot. Therefore I factor in the technical attributes of the various recordings as well. It is not just me who does that. It is a completely accepted, standard practice adopted by the record reviewing industry.

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Hi Jonathan,

It seems everyone else has lost interest in this topic apart from thee and me but that's OK, I'm enjoying it.

I guess this recording quality issue depends where you are in life's journey.

Several years ago I had the finest sound system money could buy, a British Quad amp and pre amp with electrostatic speakers the size of radiators. Square wave functions were perfectly amplified to 200W per channel without any rounding of the corners or sloping of the edges.

The sound quality was awesome but I found I was distracted by extraneous noises such as grunting, page turning, chair squeaking etc and this realism actually detracted from the enjoyment of the artist.

That is all behind me now. I have no sound system and just listen to recordings in the car on the radio/CD player. Much of the miracles that sound engineers achieve is lost on me and I am free to appreciate just the interpretation of the artist and they need to be good to hold my attention over the traffic.

I'm not denigrating the role of the engineers and the recording team but I consider their contribution minuscule compared to the lifetime preparation of the artist.

It's just my experience and opinion which I hope gives greater pause for thought than a simple 'xyz is great'.

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Several years ago I had the finest sound system money could buy, a British Quad amp and pre amp with electrostatic speakers the size of radiators. Square wave functions were perfectly amplified to 200W per channel without any rounding of the corners or sloping of the edges.


Oh heavens, if you're ever in Indianapolis you have to stop by and look me up. We used to have a similar setup here... electrostatic speakers, custom tube pre-amps, the works. The combination of tubes and wires made the room look like the interior of an auto engine. We've recently downsized -- I was in favor of selling it all and getting a Bose, but my husband just about went into heart failure at the thought, so we've compromised on something good but not quite so all-consuming.

Personally, I like good recording quality, but it's not a sticking point. I base my purchasing decisions on other factors and top-notch recording quality comes a bonus (or not).

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Hi Glenn and Erika,

I am in a very similar situation! When I lived with my parents I had a nice little sound system. Royd speakers, Musical Fidelity A1 amp and a Naim CD player. Of course ten years ago that all changed when I got my priorities straightened and took out a mortgage and bought my own home. I'm in a second (proper sized lol) home now and I am only just now in the position of comtemplating getting something decent again. At the moment I listen on a simple 3-piece computer speaker setup, but it is still enough to reveal the good and bad points in sound recordings.

But I do know what you mean. I am almost as happy listening to my CDs in my bedside radio as I would be on a "main" system (I would not have said that a decade ago), but even then I guess I am always going to appreciate better engineering efforts, especially since I do alot of sound recording myself (on equipment that does provide provide extremely good results when used properly).

In the end if it's an artist I really want to hear then I will of course most probably acquire the recording unless the recording is absolutely intolerable. But then again, if there are a number of performances out there and nothing in particular makes one stand out from the others, then I'll look for the best engineered recording and don't have any qualms or guilt about doing so. Put it this way, I have not had to make any significant compromises yet in that regard - meaning that I have never had to deny myself any performance that I really do want to hear on account of poor quality engineering.

I certainly have my fair share of 1920s to 1950s (and even 60s) recordings and I love them all. They actually make up a sizeable proportion of my collection. That said, in my opinion the engineering back in the 50s and 60s was better than it is today anyway, which makes those recordings even more desirable for me.

I think sound engineering is just as much an art form as anything else and on account of that I am always going to favour the better efforts. In any case, I tend to find that good sound engineering follows good artists around, which is how it should be.

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For me, it seems that in the end result it's a lot like a good player on a bad instrument versus a bad player on a good instrument. A good engineer can at least let us hear the artist's interpretation of a piece, whereas a bad engineer can stuff up a recording no matter how well the artist performed.

For that reason alone, I agree with Jonathan's original thoughts that the technical quality of the recording does have some place in making up your mind if you like a particular recording or not and, hence, has a place in this thread.

Neil

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Hi Erika,

You've got the picture!!

I finally got rid of it because it just didn't go with my antique furniture. Such a system requires a dedicated room and I knew people who had just that. Chair carefully positioned to be in the sweet spot, padded walls to reduce reflections, gold plated connectors and shielded cables.....

I've moved on.

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Frank Peter Zimmermann's is great too, but it's harder to get. (I had to order it from a German website)


Another vote for Zimmermann! He is one of the most tasteful violinist around. To me, he plays like Grumiaux, Szeryng, and Milstein rolled into one, with a touch of Kremer. What a fabulous player! He deserved to be far better known in this country. I just re-listened to his caprices and he plays as a great music (that inspired Schumann, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and others), with respect, but NOT lacking in bravura.

I am familiar with Rabin, Perlman, Mintz that are mentioned already and a few other interesting ones such as Ricci (he recorded the caprices 5 times and also made 2 films), Spivakovsky (with piano part by Schumann), Renardy, Zukovsky, Alexander Markov, Accardo (2 different ones), and Cornelia Vasile (superb Roumanian violinist who studied with Gitlis). The first two versions of Ricci are staggering performances with a few rather curious "slips" in relatively easy passages. Spivakovsky is lyrical and quite individual, especially the choices of bowing. Renardy is similar to Ricci, a little more elegant, but a little less exciting as well. Zukovsky has some bizzare ideas that should be heard by anyone who is studying the caprices. Markov is wild and gypsy-like. Both of the Accardo are very clean. The second one being a little more mature, musically speaking. Vasile has very lovely sound with smooth, effortless technique.

As for sound quality, anyone who is familiar with my writing, I am a very strong advocate of "interpretation first, sound quality next." I would much rather listen to an ancient recording that "says" something to me than a state-of-art recording that does not say anything to me any day.

There are some interesting individual recordings of caprices that are worth mentioning. Heifetz, Milstein, Francescatti, Gitlis and Menuhin made some note-worthy recordings of caprices. They should NOT be forgotten.

T.

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