Josef Gingold: Exclusive Interview – His Life, his Playing, his Teaching
rec. 1990

This is a somewhat unusual release as it consists of a 48-minute taped interview with the then 80-year violin veteran, Josef Gingold. He had long since reached the status of revered pedagogue after a lifetime’s performance and the interview was conducted in his teaching studio at the Indiana University School of Music. A free transcript of the interview is available via the label’s website.

Background noises include much practising from assiduous students and given the clearly non-professional recorded set up, it’s sometimes necessary to concentrate quite hard to understand what Gingold is saying – a process made more difficult because of his superbly gravelly voice and inimitable Polish-Belorussian accent.

The disc is divided into 16 tracks, each a chapter in the chronology or detail of his life, from his childhood in Tsarist Russia to a closing statement. These tracks vary in timing, from one which lasts 11 minutes to one that races by in just 38 seconds. It might have been better to condense the tracks a little to iron out these obvious imbalances.

By far the longest track is the second in which he relates the circumstances of his youth during the First World War, and the slave labour conditions endured by his father and brother under the Germans. He once played for the occupying troops and received a vast fee carried home in sacks. He also managed to see Trotsky.

The rest of the disc will be largely familiar to anyone who has taken an interest in Gingold’s life; how he played in a pit band for Jerome Kern shows, something that held him in good stead, how much he admired the relentless dedication of Toscanini, in whose NBC Orchestra he played – there is no time to reflect on the quartet he had with William Primrose, a lost opportunity – and on Szell’s acute ear for orchestral balancing.

Intonation is the basis of beautiful tone not vibrato he makes plain, and emphasises how important a young player’s first teacher is. As for himself he has no system as such as no two people are alike. He talks briefly about Ysa˙e. But this is no by no means a chronological-biographical outline of a life. It’s more discursive and anecdotal for that. The interviewer was Kim Maerkl and her affectionate laughter at some of Gingold’s answers has been retained but her questions have, I think wisely, been excised. What remains is an avuncular talk, interspersed with little nuggets. What remains true is Gingold’s humanity and warmth. As a player he possessed myriad shades of colour, borne aloft on a rich legato; every phrase, every note was alive. He never made a big sound, as surviving recordings show, but it was coloured, shaded, textured and Kreislerian in its generosity.

If you want to add his speaking voice to his roster of discs, this summons up the man in all his humanity and endearing warmth.

Jonathan Woolf
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