Glass Heart
Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (world premiere recording) [22:19]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750); Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Ave Maria [3:10]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Violin Sonata in A major, Op. 162 [23:57]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Sonate Opus Posthume for Violin and Piano [15:15]
Maria Bachmann (violin)
Jon Klibonoff (piano)
rec. 26-28 October 2009, New York State University Performing Arts Centre, Purchase NY, USA

Maria Bachmann holds a cut-glass heart before her on the cover of this violin recital disc. Indeed, the Glass is the heart of a programme ostensibly designed to complement a new work for violin and piano.

Philip Glass has written a violin sonata and, with it, has stepped into a long and formidable tradition hinted at in this attractive and enjoyable album. Does Glass's new work hold its own against such formidable companions as Schubert's great A major Sonata? I'm not so sure.

Glass Heart follows swiftly from Orange Mountain Music's live recording of Glass's Second Violin Concerto, subtitled the American Four Seasons, but Maria Bachmann's playing on the present album presents none of the problems of Robert MacDuffie's seemingly strained and inconsistent performance in the concerto. Bachmann's way with Glass is tender and gently expressive and her mellow tone is suited to the sonata. She is well balanced with pianist Jon Klibonoff, who throughout demonstrates the same sensitivity and lightness of touch. The sonata, though, is less memorable. For the most part, it feels like a retread of the familiar Glass style, complete with copious arpeggios and repetitive figurations. It might seem ignorant to accuse the most high profile of minimalists of being repetitive, but here Glass's repetitions seem more to do with a musical style based around a paucity of material than the hypnotic and slowly transforming minimalism of old. Each movement is actually based on a conventional chaconne model and, in the case of the first movement, the sequence of underlying chords yields only limited possibilities. There are some moments of finely realised beauty, however; the second movement stands out for its regretful and reflective character and its opening bars are really quite special. If only the rest were that good.

The booklet notes suggest that the rest of the programme has been chosen to reflect aspects of Glass's musical character. Gounod's heavenly Ave Maria melody over Bach's masterclass in arpeggiated writing is an obvious comparison, though I feel that the Bach/Gounod team do it rather better. I suppose certain works of Schubert share Glass's introspective quality, but not the Sonata in A (originally published as the Duo). In any case, the comparison between Glass's Sonata and Schubert's isn't a kind one. The Schubert is a great work, though Bachmann's subdued take on the first movement saps some of its energy. She seems always to be pulling back from Klibonoff's more incisive accompaniment and is unresponsive to the darting changes of character. Her playing is stylish, though some of her more extravagant shifts are in poor taste and generally she is better suited to Ravel's posthumously published violin sonata, which receives a lovely performance. Again, the stated connection to Glass's music is dubious, but Bachmann's sweet tone and control of colour suit it perfectly.

Andrew Morris

The Glass heart might be weak, but there are pleasures to be had in this attractive recital.