Rhapsodic Musings – 21st Century Works for Solo Violin
Esa-Pekka SALONEN (b.1958)
Lachen Verlernt (2002) [9:43]
Elliott CARTER (b.1908)
Four Lauds
Statement – Remembering Aaron (1999) [3:59]
Riconoscenza (per Goffredo Petrassi) (1984) [5:10]
Rhapsodic Musings (2000) [3:05]
Fantasy (1999) [5:00]
Augusta Read THOMAS (b.1964)
Pulsar (2003) [5:33]
John ZORN (b.1953)
Goetia (2002) [19:00]
Jennifer Koh (violin)
Academy of Arts and Letters, NYC June 2008 (Salonen and Thomas); January 2009 (Carter) and March 2009 (Zorn)
CEDILLE RECORDS CDR 90000 113 [52:00]
Fears that the ascetic isolationism of the contemporary solo violin muse will dwarf expressive responses are ill founded here. This is terrifically committed playing, the type of playing that explores these diverse works with real intensity and warmth of tone. It drives to the heart of things.
Not that there is over-much danger of aridity given the composers concerned. Esa-Pekka Salonen for example has constructed what is in effect a Chaconne in his Lachen Verlernt. His ‘serious clown’ demeanour in this piece is reflected in Jennifer Koh’s playing, in which she brings to bear a wealth of intensity and timbral variety. It goes so far as to confer Old World status on a contemporary work – and reveals it as harmonically and melodically alluring, especially in the incrementally fast passages towards the end.
Elliott Carter’s Four Lauds were composed over a sixteen year span and are dedicated to friends or colleagues. The first is for Copland, utilising a Copland theme, and remaining true to both men. The first of the sequence was actually that for Petrassi, written in 1984, and another beautifully apt commentary from one composer to another. The third, the one that gives the disc its title, was written for Robert Mann of the Juilliard Quartet. Its musing profile is strongly contrasted with the fast final Laud for Roger Sessions, in which Sessions’s chortles are a distinguishing feature of this witty and winning opus.
Augusta Read Thomas’s Pulsar has had commercial recordings. It’s a work where ‘the violin discovers its inner trumpet’ according to Paul Griffiths’s notes – high lying, lyrical, approachable but not, to me, especially distinctive. John Zorn on the other hand, scores with Goetia which was written for Koh. I won’t go into the gobbledegook about black magic and demons invoked by the title of the work – we’d be straying into Buffy territory – but the result is eight short pieces utilising the same ‘spell’ or incantation. Pitch transformation does the work here, and the writing is angular, flurried, pizzicato-flecked, slashing and otherwise invested with colouristic and rhythmic devices.
I should add that there’s an imaginative video by Tal Rosner to the Salonen piece which can be run in your CD-ROM computer drive, and it’s well worth watching.
The subtle aliveness of Koh’s playing means that she meets all these works head-on. She evokes their mysteries and narratives with great acumen, has been finely recorded, and proves a laudable ambassador for contemporary music.
Jonathan Woolf
Koh proves a laudable ambassador for contemporary music ... see Full Review