Point Counter Point
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Sonata for solo violin (1944) [30:01]
David FULMER (b. 1981)
Sirens (2016) [8:26]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 (c.1720) [22:31]
Sarah Kapustin (violin)
rec. Spring 2016, Oud-Katholieke Kerk, Delft, The Netherlands
ET'CETERA KTC1537 [61:00]
My initial thoughts when scanning the contents of this new release was that it constituted an ambitious programme. This is the debut solo recording of the young American born violinist Sarah Kapustin. Her choice of repertoire is both courageous and adventurous. Years ago I attended a violin recital given by Ruggiero Ricci, in which he presented a programme devoted to solo violin works. I thought at the time that the violinist seemed totally exposed both from a technical point of view and intonation-wise, and that it was brave undertaking. The title of Kapustin’s disc is ‘Point Counter Point’, borrowed from Aldous Huxley’s 1928 novel. Aptly chosen, she sees some comparison between the contrapuntal nature of the music she has selected, and the ‘symbiosis of story lines in Huxley’s novel’. My curiosity was also sparked by the David Fulmer ‘Sirens’, here receiving its recording debut. It was completed last year, written especially for Kapustin. Fuller is a young American composer, who spent some time as a fellow student of the violinist. His work is bookended by two staples of the solo violin repertoire: Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin, and Bach’s Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005.
Bartók composed his Solo Sonata in 1944 in response to a commission by Yehudi Menuhin. The two collaborated on it throughout its gestation. Its technical demands are monumental; Menuhin initially declared it unplayable on first encounter with the finished product. He did, however, go on to premiere and record it. Kapustin has full measure of the ebb and flow of its complex narrative. The Tempo di ciaccona opens with grandeur, and the double-stops emerge with pristine clarity and definition. She skilfully negotiates the contrapuntal lines of the Fuga. The Melodia I particularly like, its emotional fragility providing some soothing contrast. Kapustin contours the lyrical line with ardent tenderness. Intonation is particularly focussed in the high reaches. The folk-orientated finale is a tour-de-force, dispensed with gusto. I was interested to read that Kapustin had studied this work with Robert Mann, founding first violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. He was the first violinist to record the Sonata in its original version (with quarter tones in the last movement). Kapustin, likewise, turned to this version for her recording. The two benchmarks for me are both the Menuhin and Mann recordings – the latter I have on a well-worn LP.
A drone-like melody opens David Fulmer’s Sirens. For me, it evokes a lonely, isolated landscape. Kapustin can put her violinistic arsenal to good use in this piece, and its effectiveness is probably due to the fact that Fuller is a violinist, having also studied with Robert Mann. Pizzicati, glissandi, double-stops, harmonics, portamenti and richochet bowing all provide some impressive effects. Particularly attractive are the diaphanous glacial effects achieved by bowing close to the bridge. There are also some harsh dissonances throughout and passages senza vibrato.
It was following a performance by Menuhin of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 that Bartók felt inspired to compose his Solo Sonata. This provides a tenuous link between the two large opuses featured. Kapustin is an impressive Bach player, showing real affinity with this music. Everything sounds fresh and spontaneous, devoid of the dryness and routine that afflicts some performances. Elegance and refinement are the order of the day, and the playing is informed by intelligence and profound musicianship. Her rich, warm sound and flawless intonation add to the joy. I hope one day she’ll go on to record a complete cycle of the Solo Sonatas and Partitas.
All told, this is an impressive solo debut disc, and one that I enjoyed immensely.