I am often asked by parents "What recordings should my child be listening to?" Here is my list for a "starter set" of recordings that I think every young violinist should be listening to by the age of 15. This list is by no mean comprehensive, there are many fabulous artists and recordings that are not listed. I tried to create a list that had a variety of violinists, both historical and contemporary. Some selections are "mainstream" repertoire that students are most likely to learn in their high school years, other selections are more for inspiration.
Click on either the link or the image and you will be taken to a page where you can purchase these recordings in either CD or MP3 format from Amazon or iTunes.
A serious must have for every young violinist. One of the most well thought out interpretations and performances of this core violin repertoire ever recorded. I'm not a big fan of the tempo of the Allemande from the Partita in d minor, but the remainder of the album is exquisite, expecially the formidable Chaconne. For variety and another wonderful take on Bach, I also recommend the Bach Partitas by Arthur Grumiaux.
Honestly, many middle school students might not find recordings of Bach exhilarating, but the importance of this repertoire in their development cannot be overstated. I recommend introducting students to this repertoire via "background" music. Play it in the car or in the house so that they pick it up by osmosis.
Every violin student will eventually learn one of the Bach violin concerti. Hilary Hahn performs with her usual clarity and precision. For another option, try Anne Akiko-Myers latest album which also contains the concerto for 2 violins by Bach.
For other recordings by Hilary Hahn click here.
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Expanded Edition)
Andrea Marcon, Giuliano Carmignola & Venice Baroque Orchestra
This the most recorded piece of violin repertoire in the world. Every major artist has a recording of the Seasons. I selected this particular recording because of the authenticity of the performance. The Venice Baroque Orchestra obviously specializes in this kind of repertoire. The strings are light and bouyant and this probably comes very close to how Vivaldi would have performed it himself.
Isaac Stern: A Life in Music, vol. 8
Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole and Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 3, Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 .
(Note the $24.95 iTunes recording offers many additional concerti, while the Amazon version offers showpieces like Tzigane.)
No starter collection is complete without Isaac Stern. Stern's phrasing is sublime and his technique is spot on. Students also get to hear the great Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy. This is volume 8 from a series called a "Life in Music" that is a compilation of over 200 CD's of Stern's lifetime of recording.
Joshua Bell: Barber Violin Concerto and Bloch's Nigun
The Barber violin concerto has to be one of the most beautiful pieces ever written for violin and the last movement certainly qualifies as one of the most challenging and thrilling. This is a piece they will want to listen to over and over. Nigun is one they will want to play in coming years and is considered "core" repertoire by many teachers. It is, in fact, the required piece for the 2012 ASTA Competition. Joshua Bell is accompanied on this album by David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Itzhak Perlman, Concertos from my Childhood
Young violinists everywhere owe Mr. Perlman a debt of gratitude for this recording. It contains many of the pieces that young violinists perform during their middle school years and who could provide a better example than the legendary Itzhak Perlman?
Violin concerto in B minor, Op.35 by Oscar Reiding
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor by Jean-Baptiste Accolay
Scène de ballet for violin & piano (or orchestra), Op 100 by de Beriot
Student Concerto for violin & orchestra No. 2 in G major, Op. 13 by Seitz
Concerto for violin & orchestra No. 22 in A minor by Giovanni Battista Viotti
Jascha Heifetz: Artist of the Century
Includes: Scottish Fantasy, Bach Chaconne, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Glazunov and Sibelius violin Concerto
I recommend this recording because, well it is Heifetz and because it contains the "other" Bruch violin concerto, Scottish Fantasy an under appreciated piece of violin repertoire, in my opinion. Also, it contains the Glazunov violin concerto, another underprogrammed concerto that is overshadowed by its cousin theTchaikovsky concerto. I remember falling in love the the Glazunov concerto as a teen. With 6 pillars of violin repertoire represented, this is a great buy.
Simply Sarah, Violin Encores by Sarah Chang
This album contains so many pieces that young teens are sure to love. They will want to return to this recording again and again. Pieces like Bazzini's Dance of the Goblins, Dinicu's Hora Staccato and Kroll's Banjo and Fiddle. It also contains a staple of many a young violinists repertoire, the Gluck Melodie.
If you want the more passionate, moody, brooding side of classical music encores, then try Sarah Chang's "Sweet Sorrow" which contains the famous Vitali Chaconne.
We return again to a Joshua Bell recording, this time with the showpiece genre. This recording contains all the selections from his "Kreisler Album" like Praeludium and Allegro plus other hits like Carmen Fantasy and Scherzo-Tarentelle.
Favorite Violin Concertos by Arthur Grumiaux
I picked this recording especially for the Mendelssohn violin concerto. Arthur Grumiaux is the epitomy of elegance and grace. His sound is silky smooth and uniquely suited to this particular concerto. I am a big Grumiaux fan and often also recommend that my students listen to his Bach and Mozart recordings too.
My favorite all time recordings of the Mozart Violin Concerti. Unfortunately many young violinists are not familiar with Pam Frank. Truly one of the great violinists of this generation whose performance career was cut short by a hand injury. Luckily she has proven to be as great a teacher as she was a performer, so her voice is living on through her students. This is the most operatic of all the Mozart recordings. The phrasing and warmth of her tone is second to none. Plus, there are great cadenzas written by David Zinman, which I wish he would publish!
This is the last of my "serious" picks for young teens and this is the only album that I recommend that you only buy selected tracks. Vengerov's Bruch concerto interpretation is fiery and sizzling. I know this will be a bit of a controversial pick because his vibrato is almost over the top, but I think teens find this approach very compelling. Also, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig with Kurt Masur does a fantastic job on this recording. However, for the very reason I support the Bruch, I say "oh, no" to the Mendelssohn. Vengerov's style and approach is just too much for the much more delicate Mendelssohn. Stick to Grumiaux where this is concerned.
I know I have left of many stellar violinists and great recordings, but this list is just a way to get a basic start. Students should absolutely also listen to any of the recordings of the artists on this list plus the other greats like David Oistrakh, Anne Sophie-Mutter, Yehudi Menuhin, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, Mischa Elman, Leonid Kogan, Nathan Milstein, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Jaime Laredo and so many others.
I also encourage students to BUY these recordings. Yes, I know you can watch many of these performances for free on YouTube, but if we don't support these artists by continuing to purchase their works, then these great artists will cease to have contracts with record companies, etc.........
Ok, after the teens have had a good education on the best of the mainstream, traditional offerings of classical violin repertoire, here is a list of some of the off the beaten path pieces. So,
Just for fun....
Vivaldi, Four Seasons, Recomposed by Max Richter
This is a 2012 release. Please listen to more mainstream Vivaldi Seasons recordings BEFORE listening to this one. It helps you appreciate the deviations from the norm that were taken. I like to describe this as what Vivaldi would sound like if he had been a New Age, Minimalist composer.
Nuttin But Stringz, Struggling from the Subway to the Charts
The Escobar brothers combine the classical sound of the violin with Pop, R&B and Hip-hop.
The first of the releases from Time For Three, this album contains decidedly non-classical interpretations of classical hits that students frequently learn, like the first movement of the Concerto for 2 Violins in d minor by Bach, Csardas by Monti and Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5. Also, contains Ashokan Farewell, Blackbird and Orange Blossom Special.
This recording was done with the Concordia Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be available on iTunes, but is available in both CD and MP3 format on Amazon. Mark O'Connor blends old world classical traditions with a uniquely American style.
Another group where American fiddle meets rock meets classical. Enjoy pieces like Mountain Spring, Old Joe Clark and Calypso Jam. Barrage has published all these pieces so young violinists can learn to play these too. To fully appreciate Barrage, one has to see them live in concert.
About the author:
Phyllis Freeman has been teaching pre-college violin and viola students for 30 years. She is currently the director of the Maryland Talent Education Center and principal viola of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and a section member of the National Philharmonic. Ms. Freeman is the founder and creator of www.ClassicalMusicCity.com.
The Potter Violin Company, premier retailer of exceptional violins, violas, cellos and basses. Also, featuring a great selection of Mark Wood electric string instruments.