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Thread: Alfredo Campoli, Greatest British Violinist

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    Default Alfredo Campoli, Greatest British Violinist

    Having been born with such a natural talent Alfredo Campoli might have been expected to build his life around that talent. He did not; he enjoyed many activities and simply played when asked.

    It was an unusual talent in the sense that he might be grouped with the likes of Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti, not only because his tone was absolutely unique but also because he based his approach to performance on ‘bel canto’.

    Just a few notes and his wonderful sound is instantly recognisable. Had he been born at a later time he might well have become an icon of the instrument. Unfortunately, the recordings of his performances that remain, although providing some insight into his tone and style, do not do justice to the enormous sound he drew from the instrument and the ability to derive the absolute perfection of tone invested in the instrument by the maker.
    Born in Rome on the 20th October 1906 Alfredo died in Berkshire on 27th March 1991.
    His father was leader of the orchestra at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Rome and was Alfredo's first teacher. His mother was a dramatic soprano who had toured with Scotti and Caruso.
    The family moved to London in 1911, and five years later Alfredo was already giving public concerts. By the age of thirteen he had won so many prizes that he was asked not to compete in future competitions. In 1919, however, he did enter the London Music Festival and won the gold medal for his performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. He went on to tour with such singers as Nellie Melba and Clara Butt.
    During the depression there was little demand for a soloist and Alfredo formed his Salon Orchestra and the Welbeck Light Quartet playing at restaurants in London, and other such venues. He first appeared at a Prom in 1938 and during the Second World War gave numerous concerts for Allied troops.
    After the war, he had extended tours of Europe, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia, while continuing his work with the BBC, eventually clocking up over 1,000 radio broadcasts.
    Alfredo made his American début in 1953, playing Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole with the New York Philharmonic under George Szell and in 1955 gave the first performance of the Violin Concerto by Sir Arthur Bliss, which was written for him. In 1956 he twice toured the Soviet Union.
    Alfredo Campoli owned the Dragonetti Stradivarius, however, it was his 1843 Rocca that he used predominantly, the Dragonetti being housed in the bank for security.
    He considered the phrasing of each passage he played and if he could achieve 'bel canto' by shortening or lengthening a note then he would do so. He was not afraid to lift the bow from the strings, an act that seems to be completely avoided today. Brief breaks of sound can add tremendous drama and power to a performance, even when not indicated by the composer.
    In 1961 I made a recording of Alfredo Campoli playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Hayes Orchestra in Bromley, Kent. The cadenza from the first movement is just a miracle. My wife and I subsequently visited Alfredo at his home in Southgate, London, on many occasions and I had the great pleasure and privilege of recording him in rehearsal with Peter Katin. Daphne Ibbott and Valerie Tryon, I also promoted his last Queen Elizabeth Hall recital, which was recorded and will be published at a later date.
    In 1963 I was granted permission to record a lunchtime concert in the Fairfield Halls Croydon, given by Alfredo with the formidable British pianist Peter Katin. Two sonatas from that recording have now been published, together, with a Brahms sonata, recorded by the same duo in Alfredo’s Southgate home, to create a new CD, excerpts of published reviews are copied below.
    American Record review:
    This is the second recording I have heard by the superb Italian violinist Alfredo Campoli (1906-91), who had his childhood and much of his career in England, and the first I have heard of the also-superb British pianist Peter Katin. The beauty of this recording is in the stellar playing, the sincerity of the musician- ship, the straightforward sophistication of the interpretations, and the intimacy and high quality of the recorded performances. The Mozart and the Beethoven come from a 1963 lunch-time concert given in the Fairfield Halls in Croyden (a concert hall often used by the BBC for recording), and the Brahms was recorded at Campoli's house in Southgate in 1973.
    I’ve never heard his fabled tone (nor perhaps anyone else’s) in such vivid fidelity; a similar lushness characterizes the piano’s tone as well. The instruments sound as far apart as they might up close in a concert hall, so Terry has transmitted more than timbre: a strong sense of presence and the experience’s three-dimensionality, which pays dividends in the second movement’s dialogue between the instruments. But even if the performance didn’t flow so smoothly as it does, the recorded sound would magnify all the reading’s virtues in ratio in which many recordings diminish them. The recorded sound also captures the sparkling brilliance of Katin’s passage work in the last movement.
    Hugh Bean once said that if an alien wanted to know what a violin sounded like, he’d play Milstein’s recording of the Goldmark Concerto. But in a pinch, this one might suffice. Very strongly recommended. Robert Maxham

    Music Web International:

    His command in the big concertos was unquestioned - Mendelssohn, Bruch, Elgar - and he sought out contemporary or near-contemporary material if it suited him, such as the concertos of Bliss and Moeran. But there are gaps in his discography and thankfully this release consists of entirely discography-filling material, none having been recorded commercially. All see him paired with Peter Katin, with whom he had earlier formed a sonata duo.
    Jonathan Woolfe

    Audiophile Audition
    The live recordings of the Mozart and Beethoven show some of the “bel canto” playing for which Campoli was so well known. The Beethoven's andante cantabile really does sing here, the scherzo is playful and opening and closing movements bold. The Mozart is more romantically played than one would hear nowadays, but the line is held fairly firmly with a modicum of tempo alteration. The recording is very good indeed though the violin is quite closely miked, giving an intimate feel to the playing.
    Peter Joelson
    Lovers of the violin who didn’t have the great honor and joy of hearing Alfredo Campoli playing in a live situation missed the opportunity to hear probably the greatest, English violinist. The only choice now is to search out the few recordings that exist. I have decided to devote as much time as possible to issuing the substantial collection of private recordings I made of him during our years of friendship, with the blessing of his widow, Joy Campoli, who sadly died earlier this year. The first is now available (CD3/2009), the Fairfield Halls recital and Southgate rehearsal. You can hear a sound sample here:
    Alfredo was a warm human being and a unique violinist.

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    Senior Member ShropshireMoose's Avatar
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    I bought this recording as soon as it was released, and it was every bit as good as I'd hoped it would be. I very much look forward to more releases of recordings by this wonderful violinist from your collection. Keep up the good work.

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