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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1938) [38:57]
Peter EÖTVÖS (b. 1944)
Seven (2006) [22:58]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Violin Concerto (1990, rev. 1992) [27:47]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Peter Eötvös (Bartók, Eötvös)
Ensemble Modern/Peter Eötvös (Ligeti)
rec. Hessische Rundfunk - Sendesaal, Frankfurt, Germany, October 2011 (Ligeti), July 2012 (Bartók, Eötvös)
NAÏVE V 5285 [62:06 + 27:47]

The young Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja takes you on a wild ride in this programme of Hungarian violin concertos. She is clearly the dominant force in these recordings, though Peter Eötvös does not take a backseat in his partnership role. With immediate sound, these impassioned performances grab you from the beginning and never let go. Represented here are two of the 20th century’s greatest works in the violin concerto repertoire and a new concerto that is making its recorded debut - as far as I can tell.
Bartók’s mature violin concerto has been recorded many times and I’ve heard a good number of these recordings, although not the recent ones by James Ehnes (Chandos) or Barnabás Kelemen (Hungaroton). Kopatchinskaja treats the work as if it were newly composed and avoids comparison with recordings of the past. Eötvös is of the same mind. This in other words is a bold interpretation. One might find the account a bit over the top, especially with Kopatchinskaja’s frequent use of portamento. Some of it sounds rather like gypsy music, which is not that far off what the composer may have intended. Yet she’s not always intense and pares down her sound, playing with a minimum of vibrato as at the beginning of the second movement. I would not want hers as my only recording. Nor would I recommend it to someone who had never heard the work before. Kyung-Wha Chung with Simon Rattle on EMI might be a better bet. Or, if you want Bartók’s original thoughts on the work, either Christian Tetzlaff (Virgin Classics) or Viktoria Mullova (Philips) is recommendable. I actually prefer the original version with its brassy ending. Nonetheless, right now I am quite taken with this new account. It is tremendously exciting.
I have no reservations whatsoever with Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös in their account of the Ligeti. They seem perfectly suited to the concerto, and it is for me one of the composer’s very greatest works. Composed near the end of his career, Ligeti seems to sum up his entire oeuvre with references going back to his Musica ricercata. The lovely melody that forms the basis of the second movement, for example, is taken directly from the earlier piano work - or the arrangement he made for wind quintet in the Six Bagatelles. For Kopatchinskaja, Ligeti’s Violin Concerto is the best violin concerto after Beethoven. I might not go quite that far because it would leave out Brahms, the Bartók included here, and Berg among others. Still, Ligeti’s work is on an equal level of importance as those and has received the acclaim it so deserves. It, too, has been lucky on disc from its first recording with its dedicatee, Saschko Gawriloff (DG), to Frank Peter Zimmermann, the latter as part of Teldec’s monumental Ligeti Project. Kopatchinskaja more than holds her own in this company and plays the living daylights out of the concert. At the same time she is meltingly beautiful in the lyrical second movement. What makes her performance unique, though, is the cadenza she composed for the finale. It is jaw dropping in its virtuosity. She sounds as though she will go into orbit at any moment! Ligeti did not supply a cadenza and had Gawriloff write his own. It was his that is in the published score, but the composer left it up to the soloist to provide his or her own cadenza. At one point (track 5, 6:22-6:38) there is what sounds like a female voice in harmony with the violin during a repeat of the second movement’s principal theme. Is it Kopatchinskaja singing along, or is it just one of the ocarinas that sounds so human? Ligeti’s scoring of the chamber orchestra for this work is as inventive as anything he composed. At any rate, the performance by all concerned is a marvel, and the recording is equally superb.
The new work on the disc by composer and conductor Eötvös, another violin concerto titled “Seven” is a bit of puzzle to me. The title refers to the seven astronauts who perished in the Columbia disaster and Eötvös dedicated his work to them. In addition to the soloist, there are six violins positioned around the performance area. These seven violinists are supposed to represent the astronauts. The work is divided, basically, in two parts. The first consists of four “cadenzas,” as the composer calls them, which are then followed by a single second part lasting slightly longer than all four cadenzas together. These are not cadenzas in the traditional sense; they are all accompanied by the orchestra and contain a variety of moods, but are mostly declamatory. Near the beginning of Part II (Track 8 starting about a minute in), the concerto sounds like it’s about to take off into outer space, which is appropriate since it is a tribute to astronauts. At other times the concerto takes on a folkloric tone and is rather evocative of klezmer music. Eötvös, according to the notes, was influenced by the archetypal sound of the cimbalom, though this instrument does not appear in the work. Again the work requires a real virtuoso, and one can assume the performance here is authoritative. I have not made up my mind about the concerto. While I find it colorful and well orchestrated with a difficult violin part, I also find it rather disjointed and hard to pin down. Perhaps with additional hearings it will begin to make more sense to me.
Naïve’s production is arty with a double-fold sleeve and pocket for the booklet. The notes are adequate and in French with English and German translations. Although the total timing is too long for a single disc and the Ligeti has a whole disc to itself, the two-disc set is selling for the price of a single CD.
There are so many young violinists making waves today, but no one more exciting than Patricia Kopatchinskaja, if these performances are indicative of her talent.
Leslie Wright