Ray Chen: my golden age violin top five
"My favourite era of violinists runs from early to mid 20th century," says violinist Ray Chen, who here presents an exclusive playlist to complement his album, 'The Golden Age'. "Being a violinist today, I feel lucky to have such recordings at the click of a button, yet it’s also a constant reminder – a test, so to speak – that sets the bar at the highest quality level possible. Sometimes it can be daunting to have to accept that the next Tchaikovsky or Bruch, or Brahms violin concerto we play, people will always be able to judge it against recordings by an Oistrakh or a Heifetz!"Read more…
- Elgar • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B minor op. 61 • I. AllegroConcerto for Violin and Orchestra in B minor op. 61
I. AllegroYehudi Menuhin (Violin), Edward Elgar
London Symphony Orchestra1932, London, Abbey Road Studio No. 1
- Chausson • Poème for violin and orchestra in E flat major op. 25 • Lento e misterioso - Animato - FinalePoème for violin and orchestra in E flat major op. 25
Lento e misterioso - Animato - FinaleJascha Heifetz (Violin), Pierre Monteux
San Francisco Symphony1945, San Francisco, War Memorial Opera House
- Lalo • Symphonie espagnole op. 21 • III. Intermezzo. Allegro non troppoSymphonie espagnole op. 21
III. Intermezzo. Allegro non troppoAaron Rosand (Violin), Tibor Szőke
SWR Sinfonieorchester des Südwestrundfunks1957 - 1959
- Beethoven • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major op. 61 • I. Allegro ma non troppoConcerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major op. 61
I. Allegro ma non troppoHenryk Szeryng (Violin), Bernard Haitink
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra℗ 1974
- Tchaikovsky • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major op. 35 TH 59 • I. Allegro moderatoConcerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major op. 35 TH 59
I. Allegro moderatoDavid Oistrakh (Violin), Eugene Ormandy
The Philadelphia Orchestra℗ 1961
- Debussy • Suite bergamasque L 82 (75): 3. Clair de lune (Arr. for Chamber Ensemble) • Andante très expressifSuite bergamasque L 82 (75): 3. Clair de lune (Arr. for Chamber Ensemble)
Andante très expressifMade in Berlin
Ray Chen (Violin), Noah Bendix-Balgley (Violin), Amihai Grosz (Viola), Stephan Koncz (Violoncello)℗ 2018
Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor – Menuhin, London Symphony Orchestra, Elgar
This Elgar recording is very well known, but actually it wasn’t that long ago that these treasured recordings were handed around between friends, who’d say: 'I have this amazing, beautiful recording that’s very difficult to find, here I’ve made you a copy.' This recording was always like that. He was only 16. You think about his age and what he could do, depth-wise, with the music – it’s astounding!
Chausson: Poème – Heifetz, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, Solomon
You hear the name Chausson and at first you think it should be played in a French way – a bit soft and velvety. Heifetz captures that, but he also adds his own personality. Some people complain that Heifetz never really played Bach, or Mozart, or Chausson: that he’s always just playing Heifetz. But the sheer force of his personality, his sound, his intention is so strong that you feel like you can't hear this piece done any other way.
Lalo: Symphonie espagnole – Rosand, SWR Sinfonieorchester des Südwestrundfunks, Szőke
This particular recording is of my teacher, who's still alive today. He spans across this previous era of great violin playing. Talking about all these great musicians – Heifetz, Oistrakh, Kreisler, Milstein – and the way they played is one thing, but then seeing it in front of you, from someone who was around these guys, is another thing entirely. Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole is a great violin piece, and this is a great recording. The third movement is the the one that’s often cut, but it has the most rustic bravado, that feeling of the bull fighter, that 'Carmenesque' kind of sound. It’s definitely my favourite.
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major – Szeryng, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Haitink
I love this recording by Szeryng, which was one of the first recordings of his that I encountered. Say what you will about the style, but what always struck me about Szeryng was the honesty of the playing, and a sound that is just so present – powerful, but never forced. I think it really suits Beethoven’s violin concerto, because it has this pureness of strength, like some sort of freshly tempered metal.
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major – David Oistrakh, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Ormandy
It’s so difficult: how can anyone else record Tchaikovsky after this recording? We all try, though. David Oistrakh is my favourite violinist, and this is probably my favourite recording of all time, just because it’s so well rounded. Of course everyone knows that music is a universal language – and I’m a strong advocate of this – but somehow here you can imagine a personal connection between Oistrakh and Tchaikovsky. The way he plays is so pure – very different from Szeryng – and the sound is just round and beautiful and full of detail. He’s got a lot of personality, but he doesn’t take the music over with that personality.
Bonus choice: Debussy: Clair de Lune – Chen, Made in Berlin
In my main choices we've explored all these old guys – and they’re fabulous. I have a fair idea of how they played, and my entire 'Golden Age' album is just about that sound, about the way of playing. So I was looking at, for example, the strings they used strings, which were less hard; and they could play with quite a loose bow. There are a few small details that make a difference and which I tried to implement. And these extra steps, I feel, really gave life to the project: we were creating something, rather than just trying to capture something.
[Interview by Hugo Shirley]