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Fratres
John CORIGLIANO
(b. 1938)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1963) [22:17]
Arvo PÄRT (B. 1935) Fratres (1977) [11:14]
Paul MORAVEC (b. 1957) Sonata for Violin and Piano (1992) [22:11]
Albert GLINSKY (b. 1952) Toccata-Scherzo (1992) [4:55]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) Praise to the Immortality of Jesus (1940) [7:20]
Maria Bachman, violin
Jon Klibonoff, piano
rec. BMG Studio A, New York City, 23, 24, 26 March 2003 DDD
RCA/BMG CLASSICS 8287664298 2 [68:39]

 

Aside from the human voice it is doubtful that any instrument is more often featured in classical music than the violin. Certainly it is unparalleled in its expressive range. Thus, throughout the centuries it has been utilized by nearly every composer of note to convey every emotion in any style. For better or worse though, the violin’s sweetness and lyrical qualities became less featured, especially as a solo instrument. By the twentieth century the works of men such as Webern and Crumb expounded upon the dissonant and grating qualities that the instrument can produce. In the meantime, as so much had been written for lyrical violin, many composers turned to the viola and cello for solo instruments. As a result, the music for solo violin written in the past century was often distant or relentlessly avant-garde.

Not everyone abandoned the violin as a lyrical instrument, however, as this collection featuring the artistry of Maria Bachman shows. This music is reminiscent of the music of the Romantic era in its lyricism and vitality. It does not revert to Brahms or Chopin for its harmonic structure, but it does reach back to them for its expressivity. Clearly this was the musical vocabulary that Bachman and her accompanist Jon Klibonoff were seeking.

We start with the four-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano by John Corigliano. This is a challenging work for both performers, and here is played very well. It is hearkens to the more serious works of Bernstein, with a neo-romantic sensitivity to melody coupled with an impressionist or post-impressionist chord vocabulary. It is frequently a highly energetic work, though occasionally collapsing in an expression of exhaustion for a quick breather before launching itself into another rhapsodic blast. Throughout the fourth movement the violin even sounds as if it is laughing like a child at play while the piano plays the part of a happy but more concerned and responsible parent. It feels as if the accompaniment is trying to lead the way, but seemingly leading from behind. The interplay of the instruments is quite fun, and it feels as if the musicians are truly "in tune" with each other emotionally in addition to sonically.

This then leads directly to the album’s title track, Fratres. Interestingly, this is the only work which the liner notes neglect to discuss at length. In fact, the notes do not even give a year of composition for the eleven-minute work. The piece is, however, probably the most intriguing on the collection. The violin opens with a truly virtuosic statement, running up and down the fingerboard and across the strings at an amazing rate. The piano then enters with a stately, perhaps morose mood to contrast with the violin’s exuberance. As the piece progresses the violin is then utilized differently for other contrasts to the much more simple and elegant piano part. There are slow sections filled with double-stops or plucked musical thoughts. As the work concludes the violin returns to its traditional bowed use, but extends its range to its outer extreme. As the violin reaches higher, the piano descends, until finally both instruments are out of range and energy, and the music ceases to be. Fratres is not a commonly performed work in the West, though it is highly regarded in Russia and Poland. It has been performed in a variety of arrangements for different instruments and ensembles. This is an exquisite arrangement that should perhaps become more generally familiar.

Following Fratres is another Sonata for Violin and Piano, this one by Paul Moravec, commissioned specifically for Bachman and Klibonoff by the Philadelphia Network for New Music. The three movement sonata was recorded first on the initial release of this album. Each movement is intentionally distinct from the other two: the first soaring melodic over an intense and active piano base, the second contemplative and introspective, the finale an enthusiastic and volatile combination of instruments in a realm of shifting meters and asymmetric progressions. Unlike their treatment of Fratres, here the liner notes are especially interesting. They quote the composer directly as he describes the movements and their relation to one another, and his impression of the artists for whom the piece was written.

The fourth piece was also debuted on this recording. Albert Glinsky’s "Toccata-Scherzo" is a rapid-fire tour de force, with the violin and piano both tossing off blistering, virtuosic runs. Alternately they will then join together for a change in pace, almost as if they are rebuilding their steam before another press of the accelerator, and another utterly impressive string of runs. The piece is about the length of a pop song, which is perfect for this type of circus-acrobatics. Were it longer, it would become tiresome as the listener became dulled to the pace. As it stands, it is quite impressive and very well performed.

The final work on the disc is Olivier Messiaen’s "Praise to the Immortality of Jesus". It is the only piece here by a composer who is no longer alive, and also the only one which is part of a larger whole not presented on this CD. The original piece was written as a quartet in 1940 for violin, piano, cello, and clarinet under the title Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the end of time). The concluding movement was intended to be a duet though, and was named independently of the whole. That is the piece presented here. It is deeply reverential with a somber, mechanistic piano that could easily symbolize the heartbeat of an old man. The violin emotes expressively, and reaches slowly toward the highest pitches of the instrument. By the end the violin has reached the realm of the barely audible, and the piano slowly fades away, finally stopping as the violin holds a single stratospheric note out of time until that too dies away.

It is understandable why this would be considered a BMG Classic. Bachman and Klibonoff consistently display both mechanical and artistic brilliance. While the works are not necessarily mainstays of popular instrumental music today, they are consistently very good. The album is far more than simply listenable. It will appeal both to casual fans of classical music and to more adventurous ears wishing to explore the music of the past twenty years.

Patrick Gary



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