The best violin recordings are not necessarily the most technically difficult pieces, nor do they need to be recorded by the most well-known violinists.
What all of these recordings have in common are an impeccable interpretation and a stunning performance. Here are the 7 best violin recordings of all time:
1. Nathan Milstein – Bach Sonatas and Partitas
Nathan Milstein (1904 – 1992) was widely considered one of the finest violinists of the 20th century. His natural technical ability, flowing style and tonal perfection mean his recordings never sound dated.
Nathan Milstein’s recordings of the Sonatas and Partitas are one of the all-time greats. Not only because they stem from Bach’s genius, but also because Milstein’s interpretation of the piece is close to perfection.
The speed is just perfect, and he adds life to the composition in a way that makes it hard to even choose a favorite sonata from the recording.
2. Nigel Kennedy – Antonio Vivaldi The Four Seasons
Nigel Kennedy (born 1957) is a popular English violinist originally known for classical music and has expanded his reputation to being well known for jazz and klezmer.
You don’t have to be a classical music buff to appreciate the programmatic writing in The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi.
Although it’s one of the most commonly played pieces of classical music, Nigel Kennedy’s recordings remain a fan favorite and a best seller. After all, there’s a reason he made it to the Guinness Book of Records.
The rendition is technically sound, dramatic, easy to follow, and tells a compelling narrative. Yet, Kennedy manages to jazz things up a bit by slowing the pace at all the right spots to make this piece his own. The work comes alive under Kennedy’s touch.
3. Jascha Heifetz – Elgar Violin Concerto
Jascha Heifetz (1901 – 1987) was a Russian-born American violinist. Heifetz performed at an extremely high level since childhood and made his first public debut aged 7. Later in life Heifetz experience an injury to his bowing arm, and dedicated his life to teaching top violinists.
Hilary Han, James Ehnes, and many others did their own renditions of the romantic Elgar Violin Concerto. They all are enchanting, but Jasha Heifetz’s 1949 recording is still one of the most well-known.
The first movement, in particular, reflects a great repose and command of the piece’s emotional transitions.
This might tickle your senses if you really care about hearing challenging notes played to the key. If you’ve tried your hands at the violin, you’ll probably see that it’s actually bewildering how easy Heifetz makes it all sound.
4. Iona Brown – Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending
Iona Brown (1941 – 2004) was a British violinist and conductor who played in the philharmonic orchestra as lead violin. Brown describes how hard it is to play the lark ascending in a BBC documentary entitled ‘kaleidoscope’. The sound of singing larks during long walks in the English countryside influenced Brown’s playing style.
Just by listening to Iona Brown’s rendition of The Lark Ascending, you can tell how much passion she carried for the piece. Brown’s character is there with every note, but it doesn’t overpower Vaughan’s true vision one bit.
You’ll love this recording if you’re looking for a serene experience. It’ll take you to a warm countryside landscape, and it might be the right pick for you if you’d take nature over the sophistication of a concert room.
If you end up liking this record, you might want to check out Georg Meredith’s poem by the same name. In a way, it carries the same light atmosphere as the violin performance.
5. David Nadien – Alexander Glazunov Concerto
David Nadien (1926 – 2014) was an American virtuoso violinist and teacher. His playing style has been described as similar to Heifetz’s – impeccable bow control, powerful shifting, and fast vibrato.
Although it’s not a particularly long concerto, this recording is one of the most common works by the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov.
That’s in part because David Nadien gives it its due. In his play, the way the melodies progress towards the end is otherworldly!
Notably, the same album also includes works by Maurice Ravel, Saint-Saëns, and even Tchaikovsky. It makes it a great go-to for classic music lovers. Pop it into your list and enjoy Nadien’s brilliant play.
If that’s not enough to lure you in, the audio quality might just do the trick. The background noise in the recording is so low that you probably couldn’t even tell that it’s all recorded from a live performance.
6. Erica Morini – Giuseppe Tartini Devil’s Trill
Erica Morini (1904 – 1995) was an Austrian violinist and once described by music critic Harold Schonberg as “probably the greatest woman violinist that ever lived”.
The Devil’s Trill is easily one of the most challenging solo violin sonatas there is, from conceptualizing to the required skill level. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to hear, especially from a refined violinist like Erica Morini.
However, it helps to familiarize yourself with the vivid dream from which Tartini pulled this masterpiece. In this sense, you could say that it’s inspired by a dream and performed like one!
Despite being relatively old, the recording quality is surprisingly clear and pure. This makes it much easier to sit back and enjoy the narrative.
If you’re looking to hone your violin skills, the Guiseppe Tartini’s sonata also happens to make for a great practice piece, but don’t give up too quickly. It’ll take you quite a bit of time to master.
7. Micheal Rabin – Paganini Caprice No.1
Michael Rabin (1936 – 1972) was an American violinist and has been described as one of the most talented violin virtuosi of his generation. During a recital aged only 35, Rabin lost his balance and fell forward. This was an early sign of a severe neurological condition that tragically resulted in his career being cut short.
Nothing better to wrap up the list than a touch of the sweet child prodigy that’s Micheal Rabin. Although he has a lot of enchanting work out there, this recording captures his essence very well, and it reflects how talented he was, even at a young age.
If this recording reels you in, you’re in for a treat. Throughout his career, he also performed the full 24 Caprices, which are now compiled in a separate album.
However, the Caprice No.1 is a great opportunity to learn those perfect downbows and direction switches. Being the adept violinist he is, Rabin makes it look easy, but it takes true skill to pull something like that off!
The right violin recording will always hit you to the core. It translates the sentimentally, vision, and narrative intended by the original composers while bringing in the performer’s own twist.
While it’s all a matter of preference, it’s hard to miss the talent of any of the brilliant violinists on this list.
Hopefully, you’ll fall in love with our collection of the seven best violin recordings of all time as much as we did.