At his death Josef Gingold, a pupil of Ysaÿe, was one of the last violinists with direct links to nineteenth-century playing. Accordingly, his musical taste (particularly for short virtuoso pieces) and style, incorporating portamento after many had expunged it, made him appear old fashioned to some. Nonetheless, he was very highly regarded as both a teacher and a player. In the former rôle he taught many students of note (Joshua Bell, Jaime Laredo, Miriam Fried, Joseph Silverstein) over more than thirty years. Fritz Kreisler was enthusiastic about his performances, attending his concerts as often as he could.
Gingold began learning the violin with Vladimir Graffman, whom he credited with ‘opening his mind’ to the instrument’s potential. In 1927 he went to Ysaÿe in Belgium, returning to the US in 1929. In 1937 he joined the NBC orchestra under Toscanini and made recordings with the Primrose Quartet in the war years when he also became concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, then the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. Gingold later named Szell as the greatest influence upon him as musician and teacher.
As a protégé of Ysaÿe it is hardly surprising that Gingold enjoyed his music; he gave the first performance of Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3 and the US première of the Ballade, Op. 27 No. 3 for unaccompanied violin. He also edited technical instruction works and orchestral excerpt collections, and sat on juries for several prestigious violin competitions, remarking that they ‘help the most talented young musicians at a critical time in their transformation from brilliant students to acknowledged artists’.
Gingold’s recordings evidence a warm, rich and vibrato-laden tone further spiced by portamenti, the whole creating a dense sound world—something he retained into old age. His Mendelssohn–Kreisler Lied ohne Worte, Op. 62 No. 1 (1942) is a particularly fine example. The opening testifies to a nineteenth-century legacy with portamenti, and harmonics where more modern players might favour stopped notes. More fundamentally there is a declamatory style characteristic of pre-twentieth-century musicianship.
Excerpts of Kodály’s Duo (1973) show impressive agility and commitment in Gingold’s later years with a large sound, impressive heel-of-the-bow chord articulation in the third movement, and a dramatic and colourful opening to the first.
One of the finest recordings to include Gingold is the Primrose Quartet’s 1940 Smetana String Quartet No. 1 (Gingold plays second violin with Oscar Shumsky leading), which is extraordinarily powerful and fleet. The inner movements may be questionable to modern tastes with wide and relatively slow vibrato, but the outer ones complement this with great swiftness and intensity.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)
Role: Classical Artist