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Violin Concertos & Songs Without Words

Samuel Barber, Paul Ben-Haim, Jean Sibelius


Premiere Recording of Ben-Haim Orchestral Version



"The mother-and-daughter partnership of Schiff and Eisenberg shows an evident unity of purpose in the concertos... In the Sibelius, Schiff emphasizes the songful aspects...she allows the music plenty of time to breathe, searching for expressive detail in every phrase... In the slow movement, Schiff's intense, passionate feeling is entirely persuasive... I found the Barber performance most convincing... [Schiff plays] with expressive character... The orchestra, too, is finely balanced, with distinguished solo wind-playing... [The Ben-Haim] makes an attractive interlude between the major works.”
Duncan Druce, Gramophone [December 2013]
"Schiff's tone is large and lush... the recorded sound is appealing.”
Raymond Tuttle, International Record Review [December 2013]
“Violinist Zina Schiff, a former pupil of both Jascha Heifetz and Ivan Galamian, proves herself an adept interpreter in the Sibelius… In this intriguing collaboration Schiff has a Hungarian orchestra led by her own daughter, Avlana Eisenberg, a pupil of Erick Freidman, himself a Heifetz protégé… [In the Sibelius] the performances highlight the lyric ardor of the occasion… [Schiff’s technique]  suavely embraces brilliant and technically daunting filigree without strain. Most persuasive, her rendition of the second movement Adagio di molto sings with heartfelt sympathy in breathed phrases… Schiff and Eisenberg approach [the Barber] in the spirit of…a dreamy nostalgia occasionally fraught by passionate recollection… [in] the lulling beauty of the Andante, Schiff’s artistry shines in meditative splendor. The fire we’d been anticipating comes to the fore in the Presto in moto perpetuo, a bustling tour de force for Schiff and the orchestra, metrically and dynamically sizzling and rife with jazzy agogics and fanfares… Solid sonics…”
[ * * * * ] Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition [November 2013]
“MSR’s clear recorded sound captures the bite of the brass instruments and plentiful orchestral detail throughout, especially in the Sibelius Concerto’s outer movements and in the finale of Barber’s. For those seeking an alternative recent recording of Sibelius’s work that combines strong technical command with searching improvisation, and those who look for similar qualities in Barber’s Concerto, Schiff’s coupling of these works with Ben-Haim’s strongly appealing songs should prove highly attractive. Strongly recommended. “
Robert Maxham, Fanfare [November/December 2013]
“Three composers who left the world of 20th century music more lyrically endowed than they found it, a violinist who was once a protégé of Jascha Heifetz, and an orchestra that had its origin on wheels, all combine to make the present MSR Classics release a richly rewarding experience.

Jean Sibelius. Samuel Barber. Paul Ben-Haim. What can they possibly have in common? The fact that all were notable song composers does not come immediately to the public mind. Barber, of course, was, and still is, famous for his operas and songs (Vanessa, Knoxville: Summer of 1915). But Sibelius’ songs were dedicated to exploring the sounds of a language that is not spoken outside his native Finland. Ben-Haim’s songs were set in Hebrew, the language of his adopted country Israel, and though it is inherently one of the most lyrically beautiful of all languages, it again presents a linguistic barrier for the outside world.

The Sibelius Violin Concerto opens quietly and subdued, as do all works of epic scope and soaring imagination, with the violin entering almost unobtrusively over a bed of softly pulsating pianissimo strings. Thereafter, the instrument is scarcely so discrete, as it engages in sensational arpeggios, double stops and runs while it states and develops the main theme. Schiff handles these sections of the opening movement brilliantly, so that the delayed entrance of the full body of strings makes the more striking an impression. In the slow movement, she is just as much at home with the song-like passages over pizzicato strings as she is the broken octaves over a flute accompaniment in the main section.

In the finale, the full force of the orchestra, which has been held in deliberate restraint heretofore, comes into play for the first time in a maelstrom of activity, heralded by rhythmic percussion and growling figures in the lower strings. Eisenberg, one of today’s brightest young conductors on her way up in the musical world, does a splendid job keeping the warlike intensity of the movement going through its various phases. The incredibly difficult violin part involves up-bow staccato double stops, string crossings, running octaves and harmonics in addition to the expected double-stops, all of which Zina Schiff accompanies with Heifetz-like mastery (and no wonder) plus a lyrical impulse that is all her own. As opposed to the earlier movements, the soloist and orchestra play against each other up until the very end, when the violin plunges downward into final oblivion over a sea of slurred sixteenth notes in the strings.

What can we say of the Barber concerto? It opens with one of the most astonishingly beautiful melodies ever composed for the violin, introduced by the instrument at the very opening. The rhapsodic melody of the Andante, played by the soloist after a glorious extended oboe solo, is hardly less memorable. Schiff, who has played a major role in getting this concerto established in the violinist’s repertoire, continues her spectacular work in the perpetual motion finale.

Sandwiched between two major concertos, Ben-Haim’s Three Songs without Words would be in danger of neglect were it not for Schiff’s skill in molding and defining these brief character pieces, here recorded for the first time in their version for orchestra. They consist of an Arioso, Ballad, and Sephardic Melody, the last-named a love song. All are steeped in the composer’s love for his country and its traditions.”
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [September 2013]
This recording reflects the romantic lyricism of three fiercely independent composers in the first half of the 20th century. Jean Sibelius, Paul Ben-Haim, and Samuel Barber each expressed a vivid and personal voice, whether Finnish, Israeli, or American. National heroes, they composed from their hearts, gifting us with music both endearing and enduring.

Zina Schiff has been described by the New York Times as an instrumentalist of “Luscious high voltage...vintage Heifetz.” The comparison to the legendary Heifetz is apt, as Schiff is a Heifetz protégée, who has dazzled audiences on four continents with her special blend of passion, poetry and communicative power. She began violin lessons in Los Angeles with her oldest sister, Eileen Wingard, before attending The Curtis Institute of Music as their youngest student. There, she
won both the Junior and Senior Auditions to solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and met Samuel Barber, whose Violin Concerto she later introduced to audiences throughout the United States.

Schiff was chosen as a Top Ten College Winner by Glamour Magazine during her senior year at the University of California at Berkeley and honored as a Distinguished Alumna by Louisiana State  University in Shreveport, where she earned her Masters Degree in Liberal Arts. Recipient of the Young Musicians’ Foundation Debut Award, the San Francisco Symphony Foundation Award, and a grant from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for Music, she was named an Outstanding Young Artist by Musical America.

She has appeared on NPR’s Performance Today, Radio Vaticana, Kol Israel, WGBH’s Live from Fraser, New York’s WQXR, and Art of the States. Television viewers worldwide saw her on the PBS “Nova” program entitled “What is Music?”, where she performed the Sibelius Concerto on an experimental violin by Texas A & M professor Joseph Nagyvary.

Zina Schiff’s first recording was the score for the MGM movie, The Fixer, composed for solo violin by Academy-Award winner Maurice Jarre. Her CD debut was with the Israel Philharmonic - Bach/Vivaldi and The Lark Ascending. King David’s Lyre, Here’s One, and Cecil Burleigh were each chosen Critics’ Choice by American Record Guide. Her Bloch Violin Concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra was named Recording of the Month by MusicWeb International and given a “10/10” rating by ClassicsToday.com. Her Brahms Sonatas with Cameron Grant on the MSR label were hailed as “A glorious performance” by Gramophone.

Avlana Eisenberg, Music Director of the Boston Chamber Symphony, has conducted orchestras throughout the United States and in France, Germany, Austria, Scotland, Spain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. A Fulbright Fellow in Paris and winner of Glamour Magazine’s Top Ten College Women, Eisenberg began conducting while an undergraduate at Yale University, where she founded and directed the Silliman Symphony and was honored with Yale’s V. Browne Irish Award for Excellence in the Performing Arts.

Eisenberg is an active guest conductor, recently performing with the Lancaster Festival Orchestra and the Salzburg Chamber Soloists. She has also conducted the San Diego Ballet Orchestra, the Stanford Symphony, the New Symphony Orchestra, and musicians of the Columbus Symphony. She has been Assistant Conductor of the Baltimore Opera, the Mid-Atlantic Symphony, the Young Musicians Foundation, and University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Orchestra, and cover conductor for the Baltimore Symphony and the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra.

As Music Director of the University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Eisenberg conducted The Mikado, Gondoliers, and Patience. She has also conducted Britten’s The Turn of The Screw (Peabody Opera Department), Sondheim’s Into the Woods (Moores Opera Center), and Herbert’s Orange Blossoms (Comic Opera Guild). As Music Director of Blue Line Arts, she conducted The Scarlet Letter, an award-winning world premiere musical, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and its Original Cast Recording.

An alumna of Interlochen Arts Camp and the Aspen Music Festival, Eisenberg has participated in conducting masterclasses with Gunther Schuller, Michael Tilson Thomas, David Zinman, James Conlon, Larry Smith, Marin Alsop, Gustav Meier, Ken Kiesler, and Larry Rachleff. Eisenberg began studying violin with her mother, Zina Schiff, and continued her studies with Erick Friedman at Yale. She holds a Master’s Degree in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Michigan and a Graduate Performance Diploma from the Peabody Institute.

The MAV Symphony Orchestra has a unique origin – the only orchestra that was established and carried by a railway company shortly after World War II in order to bring music and opera to the destroyed towns of Hungary. One of the leading orchestras of Hungary, it has toured internationally including to Japan with The Three Tenors. The MAV Symphony Orchestra accompanied Zina Schiff for her Hungarian debut at the Budapest Spring Festival.
JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Allegro moderato
Adagio di molto
Allegro, ma non tanto

Sephardic Melody

Presto in moto perpetuo

MSR Classics
Music for Violin and Piano ZINA SCHIFF