BACH; BARTÓK; BOULEZ Works for Solo Violin
‘It is a concert!’ begins Michael Barenboim in the engaging booklet-notes he’s written to accompany this recording. And indeed it is, beginning with the beautifully balanced programme itself, Boulez’s two Anthèmes acting as ear-prickingly bright and theatrical bookends to Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin and Bach’s Sonata No 3 in C. Then there’s the acoustic itself: non-studio recordings don’t necessarily come with the guarantee of spatial atmosphere but Berlin’s Jesus-Christus-Kirche is palpably present here. In fact, some listeners may find the extent to which the violin resonates around its walls, combined with relatively close miking, almost too overpowering. Still, there’s something invigorating about the way in which you’re grabbed by both shoulders and pulled right into the building from the opening swoop of Anthèmes.
As the programme continues, interconnecting threads are everywhere. Naturally the influence of Bach looms large over the Bartók and the Boulez, but so does that of Yehudi Menuhin; Bartók wrote his sonata for Menuhin after hearing him perform the Bach sonata, and almost 50 years later, in 1992, it was the Yehudi Menuhin Competition for which Boulez wrote the first of his Anthèmes. Then, of course, there’s the sheer near-unplayability of all three composers’ works.
Barenboim makes it all sound easy, though, with performances spilling over with life and drama. Every work’s soul has been ignited and revealed, every second telling a story, all unmarred by a single glitch in intonation or articulation. The Anthèmes, with their cornucopia of violin techniques and effects, sound at times like musical liquid. Their pizzicato sections heap on further delights, pinging gloriously through the air. As for the Bach, this is strong and direct even in its tender moments; physical-sounding, but with the effortless physicality of a top athlete rather than being a Herculean struggle, and with each polyphonic strand characterfully voiced.
Decide for yourself whether the acoustic is overpowering or invigorating; this is indisputably exciting playing across an indisputably effective programme.