Posted by Owain on
With a couple of pupils now tackling this piece, I thought I'd see if there was a good video available to help illustrate how the parts fit together to make the musical whole. In the end, as with Vivaldi, I couldn't choose between a performance on modern instruments and one on baroque violins. First, here's Isaac Stern and Shlomo Mintz, with big bold playing on modern violins. The way the more melodic lines exchange between the parts is the main feature, with the spotlight passing between one violinist and the other. It's a useful video for players working at vibrato, because there's some nice close-ups showing how they use it to build a powerful yet expressive tone. I also like the slight rubato at the ends of phrases, where the two soloists come together in rhythmic unison for three quavers leading to the cadence - a passage I've found particularly useful for developing ensemble technique, allowing players to make eye contact as they bring the music to the cadence together.
In contrast, here's Andrew Manze and Rachel Podger, two wonderful players of baroque violins. The balance of the sound here blends the soloists much further into the ensemble rather than standing out above it. The lower pitch and mellower sound make some passages rather sombre and haunting, at 4:30 for example, and the crescendo following this moment shows how timbre as well as volume can help the intensity of the music grow.
One of the questions I ask myself with this piece is should I be using it to exploit the work students are doing on vibrato and on the use of higher positions for a rather romantic degree of expression, as with the first video, or is it better as an introduction to employing some of the period-instrument approaches to the music? If you've learnt (or are learning) this piece, how did you tackle it? And teachers, how do you use this piece in the context of modern vs. period performance? For those interested in playing the piece, the music's available for free at IMSLP. (P.S. For those pupils who don't believe me when I claim that even the greatest players make mistakes, and that it doesn't necessarily make for a bad performance, go back to the first video and listen for the squeak at 1:46....)
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