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Efrem Zimbalist’s career was characterised by a number of enterprising concert tours. Passionate about taking music to places where it was rarely practised, when touring the Far East in the 1920s he would accept bookings in any location, however insignificant; this strategy brought him a number of pupils from Japan.

Hailed by Glazunov at his graduation recital as a ‘colossal talent’, Zimbalist was famed for his rapid pace of learning, claiming in a New York Times interview of 1911 that he could memorise any concerto in two weeks. Even when, at the end of his performing career, he came out of retirement to premiere Menotti’s Concerto in 1952 he learnt it in just three weeks.

As a stylist Zimbalist was quite reserved. His recordings of 1911–1925 for Victor reveal a focused and clean sound with the tight vibrato typical of many at this time (and quite similar to Auer’s) and a firm, articulate tone. His own Hebrew Melody and Dance (recorded in 1911) represents his compositional output here, whilst the Brahms-Joachim Hungarian Dance No. 20 (1911) demonstrates a rather more outlandish approach than in the majority of his recordings, with frequent (though rapid) portamenti and quite extreme alterations of tempo and rhythm to deliver the ‘gypsy’ folk-style with great effect. The famous 1915 pairing with Kreisler for Bach’s Double Violin Concerto shows the soloists blending well; the difference between them is most striking in the slow movement where Zimbalist, playing the second part, commences with a tone of discreet vibrato and pronounced portamenti, Kreisler sounding more modern.

Zimbalist’s 1930 recording of Brahms’s D minor Sonata reveals a pure sound with a relatively slight vibrato and sparing use of portamento. Interestingly, it also displays some of the rather odd fluctuations of tempo and rhythmic manipulations which characterise the playing of Elman and Seidel in the same sonata, albeit in different places. Tempting though it is to infer a performing tradition (perhaps associated with Auer himself ) the results are directly comparable neither to nineteenth-century performing style nor, indeed, to each other.

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A TO Z OF STRING PLAYERS Naxos Educational
Chamber Music
BACH, J.S. / MOZART: Violin Concertos (Kreisler) (1915-1945) Naxos Historical
KREISLER, Fritz: Complete Recordings, Vol. 3 (1914-1916) Naxos Historical

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