Salut d’amour — How interpretation of a song varies among violinists

Salut’ d’amour is one of my favorite violin pieces. It is one of Edward Elgar’s best-known works and has inspired numerous arrangements for widely varying instrumental combinations. I couldn’t help myself searching for every version I could find online, and I noticed that, with each performer’s different styles and their interpretations of the song vary, their performances are very different from each other. It became an interest of mine to study the nuances of each version. It also facilitate the process of imitating each style.

I’d like to first introduce the background of this song first as it is quite romantic. Salut d’amour has another German name“Liebesgruss” (‘Love’s Greeting’). Elgar finished this song when he was engaged to be married to Caroline Alice Roberts, who is fluent in German. Elgar presented it to her and then proposed to her (I would like someone to propose to me that way!)

Among many versions I’ve listened to, there are four that I think are worth comparing.

James Ehnes is a Canadian concert violinist. He began his violin studies at the age of four. He graduated from The Juilliard School in 1997 where he was a student of Sally Thomas, winning the Peter Mennin Prize for Outstanding Achievement and Leadership in Music. I truly believe that where and who a violinist learned his skills from are quite important. Ehnes is always acute and rich in emotion. His performance reminds me of meticulosity. Even when his live performance sounds like recorded.

Ai Okumura is a Japanse violinist born in Amsterdam. She also started learning violin at the age of four. She graduated from the Toho Gakuen University with the Diploma of Soloists. She has studied with Akiko Tatsumi, and has taken open master class lessons given by such renowned artists as Isaac Stern, Augustin Dumay, György Pauk and Itzhak Perlman. Okumura plays fine and smooth tones, which lives up to Salut d’amour. But I feel like his performance is rather restrained.

Itzhak Perlman is a master of violin, that I don’t even need to mention. He has a very distinct habit of playing violin: that little flip of the bow once in a while. It gives me chill every time and makes the piece alive.

And finally Sarah Chang, whom I’ve mentioned in my previous post as my favorite. Sarah is a tough girl, you can tell from her performance that she is rich in emotions and she is never shy of showing her emotions. You can feel how she loves this piece by watching her play; she plays at the tempo of her love, neither too fast nor too slow, in no way compromising the authentic beauty of the composition, and with such vigor, a glorious release of emotion, in so magical a form.

All of these versions are well done because all of the four performers are so talented. But I likes Sarah Chang’s the best because it softens my heart every time I listen to it, making me feel that love is about beauty but also sorrows. The climax of the song makes me cry sometimes. I believe that’s exactly the best response that a violinist wants to evoke from his/her audience.

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