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Mirijam Contzen
Johann Sebastian BACH

Partita No. 3 in E Major BWV 1006: Preludio [3.22], Loure [3.46], Gavotte en Rondeau [2.53], Menuet 1 – Menuet II – Menuet I [3.57], Bourée [1.23]. Gigue [1.46]
Tibor VARGA (1921-2003)

Le Serpent [6.41]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Sonata for solo violin Sz 117: Tempo die Ciaccona [9.14], Fuga [4.07], Melodia [6.36], Presto [5]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Élegie [5.26]
Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)

Sonate Op. 27 No. 4: Allemande. Lento maestoso [6.16], Sarabande. Quasi lento [3.30], Finale. Presto ma non troppo [3.05]
Mirijam Contzen (violin)
Recorded Reitstadel Neumarkt, 12-14 January 2004
BMG ARTE NOVA CLASSICS 82876 57741 2 [67.53]


From the very first this disc – or rather, the violinist featured on it - threatened to be ones of those rather dreaded publicity-creations (Charlotte Church-esque media-hyped upstart musicians of mediocre talent – to put it rather bluntly!), and to a fair extent the musical content confirmed the immediate impressions. For a start, it is not a disc that one would purchase for the music featured. It is rather strangely programmed with disparate works ‘united’ by the tenuous thematic connection of Bach. This is surely only designed to show off the virtuosic skills of the soloist rather than to showcase any particular composer, period, style or programmatic intent. The message is instantaneously clear - this is to promote the violinist rather than the music. A large picture of the violinist on the front (and indeed more photos throughout the notes), the lack of a list of the pieces played in the fairly poor and unimpressively-composed sleeve-notes, and almost as much information about the violinist as about the music / composers certifies this.

So then, we ask, what brilliant skills, what ne’er-plumbed depths of emotion, what new interpretation or astounding vitality can this violinist - the German-Japanese Mirijam Contzen - bring to these works? The answer is that she provides nothing innovative, superlative or exceptional. To say bog-standard performances of bog-standard repertoire would be doing this disc an injustice as the music featured here is fairly adventurous. The pieces are all, admittedly, very well played, but no better than could be found elsewhere.

Contzen opens with Bach’s Partita No. 3. This is, as could perhaps be expected, technically very accomplished, but not particularly musically performed. Contzen plays with a nice simple style that is very suitable for Bach, but without the soul and spirituality that radiates through all of Bach’s compositions. At times Contzen rushes - both the opening movement (Preludio) and (even more so) the Bourée are too hurried, and she does not create any changes in tone or character throughout the piece. In the Menuets she seems quite restricted by the bar lines, and her articulation is too abrupt and exaggerated in the Gigue.

Contzen follows the Bach with the totally different Le Serpent by Tibor Varga, performed in a suitably serpentine manner. Given that the sleeve notes describe Varga as "practically the sole teacher" of Contzen, it is as well that this is so convincingly and adeptly played!

Contzen moves on to the notoriously difficult but beautifully atmospheric Sonata for Solo Violin by Bartók. This is more of a mixed bag. The opening movement is again technically sound but distinctly lacking in musicality, with very few contrasts, whilst the second movement, on the other hand, is excellent, and probably the best track on the entire CD. The third moment lacks emotion, but the final Presto is proficient and vivid, with the folk music influences in particular being extremely effectively educed.

I was delighted to hear a little more emotion creeping in Stravinsky’s ensuing Élegie, which is played persuasively and powerfully with a pleasingly rich and dark tone.

Ysaye’s Sonate Op. 27 No. 4 is a good piece to conclude the disc, especially since the CD commences with Bach, and so much of Ysaye's music is based upon Bach. It is also wonderful to here find one of his lesser-known works promoted. There are nice touches in the Ysaye - the fiendishly difficult pizzicato in the second movement is brilliantly accomplished, for example - yet there is still not enough contrast, emotion or depth to the music.

So, unfortunately, I felt that my fears were realised in this disc. All of these pieces are fairly polished, and the playing is very competent, yet the music isn't allowed to grab one. It lacks a sense of musicality, passion and soul. The works chosen are mostly showy party-pieces, designed to demonstrate virtuosity rather than to speak to one. Not a disc I would personally recommend, but of its kind (publicity-machine compilation disc), it is probably one of the better.

Em Marshall

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