Elsa Grether: Kaleidoscope
The French violinist Elsa Grether isn’t such a well-known name in the UK, but her recording of Bloch’s two violin sonatas was enthusiastically received in these pages by Edward Greenfield (9/13). I’m about to continue in that enthusiastic vein here.
Grether’s expressed aim with ‘Kaleidoscope’ is to help the listener ‘discover all the possibilities of the violin and its expressive palette over space, time and aesthetics’ – a mission statement that immediately raises the bar to a level only the bravest artists would set themselves, but one that Grether clears comfortably throughout this technically superb, intonationally perfect recital.
Cleverly anchored around the tonal centre of D minor, her programme begins where, in a sense, it all began, with the Chaconne from Bach’s D minor Partita. By turns keening and worshipping, Grether’s is a softly pulsing, mellifluously flowing and immensely natural-sounding reading; sublimely voiced and projected as a seamless crescendo of thought and feeling. It spans a full range of articulation, too, whether she’s spitting out sforzando chords underneath a legato melody or has dropped down into some frictionlessly rippling pianissimo pool.
As for where to go next, Grether chooses 1933 Vietnam, switching Bach’s Lutheran cathedral of sound for the post-Webern, Eastern-flecked elemental spiritualism of Tôn-Thất Tiết’s Métal Terre Eau, a feast of eerie harmonics, glissandos, pizzicato and other effects, all of which she delivers with effortless conviction across the various alternations between crude energy and mystical weightlessness.
The programme’s subsequent technical, stylistic, emotional, geographical and historical twists and turns are no less convincing and multifarious as we move through Ysaÿe, Khachaturian and Honneger and then end on Xavier Turull’s virtuoso violin arrangement of Albéniz’s ‘Asturias, leyenda’, where urgent spiccato bariolage mimics flamenco guitar technique.
To say Grether has met her brief is an understatement. This is easily my favourite solo recital in quite some while.