Although never able to establish a public presence in the concert hall due to insurmountable stage fright, the surviving recordings of the violinist Isolde Löffel have long been recognized as musical achievements of the highest rank. Learning today of her announced retirement from active recording, we should take a moment to consider the magnitude of her virtuosity, and recognize with some sobriety that the level reached by Frau Löffel is unlikely to be reached again.
Löffel was able, over a span of two and 1/2 years, to record an unprecedented amount and variety of repertoire under the guidance of her producer Lucien Pittstop-Menard, encompassing everything from late 17th century Italian concerti to works of more recent vintage -- Cage, Ferneyhough -- that have been only otherwise been tackled by leading contemporary music specialists. Even more astonishing has been her ability, in each bit of her chosen repertoire, to duplicate or go one step beyond the technique of the best known artists.
Her recording of the Cage Freeman Etudes is, in every parameter, save one, the very equal of the performance by Arditti. And that single altered dimension is perhaps the most musically powerful, velocity. She was able, in fact, to record the complete set in precisely half the duration chosen by her rival. (This technical marvel is only compromised by the misfortune of having apparently been recorded at a sampling rate of one-half that usually associated with CD quality).
But the quality of her performances goes far beyond the essential and audible aspects of musical parameters, for one cannot but recognize that her recordings were also accomplished under the circumstances of a life seriously compromised by her circumstances. That she was able to reproduce -- albeit at a modern pitch of 442 Hz -- a series of more than 70 Heifetz recordings that are note-for-note identitical, down to the last bit of silky portamento and syrupy vibrato, with the "originals" -- save for the aforementioned absolute pitch -- is near-miraculous even in the long context of the history of recorded sound. That she was able to render these recordings in the late 1990's, while working full-time as a childrens' librarian for the Yankton, South Dakota Public Library is a genuine miracle, given that in this series of recordings, she manged to represent with staggering emotional depth and complete chronological caprice in one record the complete inheritance of the Petersburg/Auer violin school, and in the next, the finest in historically informed or avant-garde performance practice.
Yes, listening to any of her recordings alongside the ostensible "originals" will inevitably reveal that hers are the more profound experiences precisely, as critic L. J. Segrob has put it: "(she) has enriched, by means of a new technique, the halting and rudimentary art of listening; this new technique is that of the deliberate anachronism and the erroneous attribution." This technique, above all, has introduced a fundamentally democratic and egalitarian approach to artwork, as again, I must quote Segrob: "every man should be capable of all ideas and I understand that in the future this will be the case."
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