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Karen Bentley’s Dancing Suite to Suite reviewed by Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt
Ole Pullar Saxe - Dance Suite for Solo Violin (World premiere recording)
Johann Sebastian Bach - Partita No.2 in D minor
Odd Bakkerud - Fanitullen for Norwegian hardangerfele
Karen Bentley - Violin, Viola, Hardangerfele

A co-production between Neptunus Records and Ariel Ventures
Available from:
Neptunus Records
Björkbergsvagen 74
S - 79360 Siljansnas

Ariel Ventures
2553 12th Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119-2116

or over the internet  and

dancing suite to suite

The outstanding American violinist Karen Bentley, a native of Palo Alto, California, and a pupil of among others of Josef Gingold, Yuval Yaron and Nathan Milstein is always a surprise soloist, be it in concert, in collaboration with the widest possible range of musicians or on CD. In the States, she is well known as a champion of contemporary music; I had the honour of experiencing her playing contemporary pieces of great beauty, but also of utter rubbish, and always with her usual flair and sense of duty firmly believing that every composition has to be heard. But she also feels free to tackle any musical style from the classics to jazz and rock - and she always succeeds a hundred per cent. Next to her endless activities as a performer, conductor and composer she is currently the violinist in the Paul Dresher Electro Acoustic Band.

Her latest CD is another shining example of her incredible versatility as a soloist and as a vibrant musician. In the accompanying booklet she writes: "Dancing Suite is the fruition of the search of roots musical and genealogical. I first set foot on my ancestral land of Norway in July 1998." Finally, one childhood wish got fulfilled; she learned to play Norway´s national instrument, the hardangerfele, with its five sympathetically vibrating strings underneath the bridge. The final piece on this CD only gives a short impression of the sound of this beautiful instrument and one wished for an entire Karen Bentley CD devoted to this extraordinary fiddle. From Norway she went on to Denmark, to play several solo recitals. Here, she met the Danish composer Ole Sax. It did not seem to be love at first sight; he invited her `to jam with him on drums and piano´, but she was far more interested in discovering the beautiful coast around Nykoeping.

Back in the States, she suddenly received a present from him, the score for Salsa for Karen - now the last movement of the Dance Suite. It turned out to be a gem and she added it to her repertoire. "Following the suggestion of a friend, I requested an entire suite from Ole Saxe based on the model established by Johann Sebastian Bach: multinational dances related by key comprising an organic work", Karen Bentley writes. The outcome is an incredibly demanding virtuoso suite, which successfully mixes various Afro- Cuban idioms with the rhythmic passion and spirit of European folk tunes, while Bach is also constantly in the air. The six movements are called ‘Flamenco Alojera’, ‘Ziga Dance’ (Balkan rhythm), ‘Rhumba de la Luna for Viola’, ‘Jig for Alan’, ‘Redhaired Tango’ and finally ‘Salsa for Karen’. It is a substantial work of nearly 40 minutes duration and demands not only extreme technical skills, but also asks for colour, unrestrained rhythmical fluidity and precision. Karen Bentley proves to be the ideal interpreter of a composition which is deeply emotional, which constantly crosses musical boundaries, but which is never tasteless - a work, in fact, which is full of energy and, despite its contemporary conception, one deeply rooted in tradition.

The sheer tonal beauty of her violin playing, her clarity, her phrasing, her ability to give each movement a special quality of its own captivates. Surely, this work should soon be part of every violinist’s repertoire. It is interesting that Ole Pullar Saxe, born in Copenhagen in 1952, but living in Sweden since 1973, is also head of the School of Holistic Therapy and is giving classes in alternative medicine, relaxation therapy and drama as well as playing the drums in a jazz trio and in a world music band. The Dance Suite had its world premier in Palo Alto on December 8th, 2000 in a concert followed by Bach´s D-Minor Partita for solo violin, which is also included on this recording. Karen Bentley possesses the integrity and the spirit to play such a well-known work without any artistic arrogance and she lets Bach´s musical superiority dominate her interpretation of the work. The technical quality of this CD is excellent and matches its contents.                                     

Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt

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