Our music for this week is third movement of the Elgar violin concerto, as performed by the former concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Silverstein. We have listened to another interpretation of the Elgar concerto before, but it was not nearly as good as this one (it was mine 😉
This performance is worth listening to because of the soloist’s ability to create a unique and memorable sound. This may sound simple, but it is the hardest thing in the world to do. Most violinists out there could play this concerto, but very few of them could make it sound as if they were improvising the notes on the spot. This performance shows an uncanny ability and an incredible giftedness that is hard to find. I want to take a few sentences to highlight some of the ways that this performer stands head and shoulders above most other performers you will hear today.
First of all, the sound is unbelievable. It has an amazing richness and fullness that is so hard to create without adding tension to the body. At the same time, however, the sound is amazingly lyrical and sensitive.
Secondly, the sounds never ends. Silverstein has mastered the art of the bow stroke to such a level that even when he is playing sharper notes or faster passages he is able to connect the sound. This is particularly effective in a romantic era composition like the Elgar concerto, because a connected sound is a more lyrical sound.
Third, Silverstein has a wonderfully smooth and continuous vibrato that sounds as natural as the human voice. Again, this is incredibly hard to do. He uses this vibrato to further create an impression that his sound never ends.
Fourth, he is technically on point. His intonation and execution are impeccable. Well those elements are not necessarily the determining factors for a great performance, his combination of perfect execution and a seemingly endless sound makes his performance all the more impressive.
Fifth and finally, you’ll notice that he is not throwing himself all over the stage like many of today’s musicians do. He has the maturity, composure, and concentration to let the music speak for itself without interposing a gymnastics performance on the audience as a compensation prize. Any musician who moves in that manner is compensating for something that he or she does not have. Silverstein, however, is as close to a complete mastery of the violin as I have ever seen.