'Oh That Stradivarius'

AUDIOFILE - Val A. Villanueva () - January 11, 2009 - 12:00am

Alaska-based Linda Rosenthal owns and uses a violin handcrafted by Italian J.B. Guadagnini in Turin sometime in 1772. Guadagnini violins are usually referred to as the “poor man’s Strads,” alluding to Stradivarius violins (manufactured between 1698 and 1725) by fellow Italian Antonio Stradivari. Strads are undoubtedly the greatest-sounding violins ever made.

However, I believe that Linda’s artistry is not defined by the instruments she uses. She exudes such rich artistic charm that what her listeners hear is not the instrument, but rather her heart and soul disguised as music. She’s only one of the few violinists who can masterfully execute the spiccato (a technique in which the bow is bounced on the string), while gently caressing the violin with portamenti (a smooth glide from one note to another) and ricochet bowing.

She learned the strings with Jascha Heifetz, the most prized asset of 20th-century violinists, who trail-blazed the technical art of violin playing. No, Linda is not in the same castle-in-the-sky league as Heifetz, but she rewards listeners with a pleasingly spirited violin playing. As her techniques dissolve into a glorious opus, not even the strongest of hearts can escape the enchantment that her music weaves.

Oh, but the Strads have built such a reputation sans rival. A genuine Stradivarius, which may fetch as much as US$6 million, ranks among the great icons of Western culture and has withstood the test of time. It is believed that of the more than a thousand produced; there are fewer than 700 genuine instruments in existence. Experts insist that the sound produced by the wood of the Stradivarius is the ideal violin tone, although recent scientific tests show that the chemicals used in protecting the wood from wear and tear may have contributed to the Strads’ fantastic sound.

On the album “Oh That Stradivarius” Linda momentarily rests her trusted Guadagnini to fiddle with the famed Strads. With their partnership, First Music Impression (FIM) top honcho Winston Ma achieved a musical coup. Listening to it is akin to watching a rider and a horse flawlessly and gracefully performing a number in an equestrian event; with Linda at the saddle in firm control, with the thoroughbred Strads keenly obeying her every musical command. The end result is simply and emotionally gratifying.

Linda does recitals throughout North America, Europe and Asia either as a soloist or as a chamber musician. She is the artistic director of Juneau Jazz & Classics, an annual festival that features internationally renowned jazz and classical artists, now celebrating its 23rd season. She is also artistic director of the Lake Placid Chamber Music Seminar for Adults in New York and professor of music at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, Alaska, where she makes her home.

I own six of her albums and on three of them (“Favorite Encores,” “American Violin Sonatas” and “The Artistry of Linda Rosenthal”) she is accompanied by pianist Lisa Bergman. On the other three, “Fiddler de Bop,” “Glacier Blue” and “Oh That Stradivarius,” she is with Lincoln Mayorga, the Bruce Paulson Big Band and various artists, respectively.

These were all recorded on CD and super audio CD (SACD). Despite being an avowed analog junkie, I also enjoy various digital formats, the reason I have not dared to part with any of my digital gear. I’m resigned to the fact that not all the music I like is on vinyl. Besides, it’s the music and creativity of the artists themselves that really matter to me.

The album, which Heifetz himself endorses, opens with Largo from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, followed by Paganini’s Romance From The Magic Bow, Dancla’s Variations On The Carnival Of Venice, Chaplin’s/Steiner’s Theme from Limelight and Tara’s Theme from Gone With The Wind, Yradier’s La Paloma, Enesco’s Romanian Rhapsody, Schubert’s Serenade, Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, Gossec’s Gavotte, Joplin’s The Strenuous Life, de Falla’s The Ritual Fire Dance, Brahms’ Hungarian Dance and Mendelssohn’s On Wings of Song.

The recording is obviously done with Linda playing the Strads as close to the microphone as possible, ostensibly to bring about dynamic passages that burst magnificently when they should, while ensuring high resolution for soft passages throughout this 41:22 minutes of musical ecstasy.

Linda and the Strads could very well define what synergy in music is all about. They affirm my belief that the greatness of the artists lies in how they can convey their emotions through the musical instrument they use, and how well the instrument handles and later reproduces such powerful human feelings through glorious music.

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For comments or questions, please e-mail me at audioglow@yahoo.com or at vphl@hotmail.com. You can also visit www.wiredstate.com or http://bikini-bottom.proboards80.com/index.cgi for quick answers to your audio concerns.

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