By Cathy Fuller
Nikolaj Znaider is tall, handsome and deliberate, and he's taken great care to understand the physical art of playing the violin. I was fascinated to hear how quickly he had realized, as a teenager in New York, that the great violin guru Dorothy Delay was just not right for him. So he left. When he found Russian teacher Boris Kushnir in Vienna, Znaider was intent on examining every single aspect of violin playing. Now, he seems to completely understand the secrets of the violinist's special choreography. Knowing the function of every knuckle and muscle has kept him alive in the brutal world of touring.
You'd think that such a consciously driven approach might undo the freedom of expression and transcendence that great musicianship requires. But it doesn't. Znaider has a perfect ear and a passion for life, and both are faithful guides for his deeply focused playing. The golden miniatures by Fritz Kreisler, so central to violinists, come alive with elegance and humanity when Znaider conjures them up.
As an 8-year-old, he had another moment of improbable wisdom: He knew, suddenly, that he had to be a violinist. Now, when he looks at 8-year-olds, he's shocked that he had such a powerful conviction.
Today, Znaider plays on one of the greatest old violins around: Fritz Kreisler's own 1741 Guarneri del Gesu. It has taught him much, he says, adding that it's a living, breathing thing which changes every day and serves as an external set of vocal cords. It has character and beauty and a warm, versatile, communicative sound.
Znaider's latest passion is also rooted in Kreisler. When he visited 99.5 All Classical in January 2010, he was touring with Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto, a piece that Kreisler himself premiered on this very instrument. Elgar wrote mysteriously on his concerto manuscript, "Enshrined herein lies the soul of ....." The recipient of the dedication is still a mystery. But there's no doubt that, when he plays the concerto, Znaider can sense the soul of Fritz Kreisler, enshrined in his gorgeous violin.
For his performance, he was joined by pianist Deborah DeWolf Emery for Kreisler's Leibesleid, the Tempo di minuetto in the Style of Pugnani, the Andantino in the Style of Martini, and Schon Rosmarin. Enjoy.
(photo: Matthias Creutziger)