The Art of Violin

LABELS: Warner/NVC Arts
PERFORMER: Dir. Bruno Monsaingeon
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-85801-2


Those familiar with Bruno Monsaingeon’s earlier films on Richter and David Oistrakh will know what to expect. He is tireless in his search for rare and valuable film, and pitches his sights so as to engage the interest both of the musically well-informed and the less expert musical public.

He has produced a montage of some of the great violinists of the first half of the last century and includes archival footage that will be new to many, as well as much that is newly discovered. The opening dwells on the individuality of sound that great violinists produce.

Of course virtuosity is common to all and transcendental in many, but it is their expressive individuality which is Monsaingeon’s primary concern and which the excellent commentary (by such artists as Itzhak Perlman, Ida Haendel and Ivry Gitlis) so cogently articulates.

No one listening, say, to Szigetis old records of the Bloch Concerto or Kreisler’s Brahms could ever be in the slightest doubt as to who was playing. And the same goes for the other giants of the first half of the century such as Oistrakh, Elman and above all Heifetz.

There is footage new to me of Thibaud (whom I remember hearing in the flesh) and a brief snatch of a 1946 Prague film of Ginette Neveu playing the closing bars of the Chausson Poemeand Oistrakh in the cadenza from the first Shostakovich Concerto.

A montage of part of the Mendelssohn Concerto in which the soloists change in rapid succession brings such strong personalities as Oistrakh, Stern, Christian Ferras, Milstein, Menuhin, Grumiaux, Heifetz and Elman, thus bringing home their differences in tonal production and their rich diversity of approach.

There is a poignant sample of the 15-year-old Michael Rabin, who died before his career had really taken off, playing in some showbiz context, and the ill-fated Joseph Hassid captured, albeit not on film, in London in 1940.


Other rare material offers a glimpse of Ysaye in 1912, looking immensely grand, indeed positively imperial, and there is some ingenious matching of silent-film images with early 78rpm records. Generally speaking, this is better structured than Warner’s companion issue The Art of the Piano and no one investing in it is likely to be disappointed.