Liza Ferschtman plays Biber, Bartók, Berio & Bach
These two recitals have the Bartók Sonata as an important constituent but their focus is quite different. With Liza Ferschtman it’s a balanced programme that places Baroque music alongside 20th-century works; for Tamsin Waley-Cohen it’s the starting point for a survey of more recent solo violin music. Ferschtman gives a lively and very individual performance of the Bartók, often quite free in rhythm, but with a good sense of momentum whenever the music demands it, as in the more forceful parts of the finale. In the ‘Melodia’, she keeps to many of the fingerings from the Menuhin edition, making effective use of the expressive portamentos he indicates. It’s a fine account, though it doesn’t quite displace Barnabás Kelemen’s wonderful 2010 recording, apparently effortless yet utterly gripping.
Waley-Cohen’s way with the Sonata is quite different: each of the movements is slower – way behind Bartók’s very precise timings, especially in the first movement, (14'12" as against 8'45"). Consequently the characteristic chaconne-like rhythms that pervade the movement lose their powerful force. The ‘Fuga’, too, appears effortful next to Ferschtman or Kelemen.
But if Waley-Cohen’s Bartók can hardly be recommended, the rest of her recital is a different matter. The programme provides a fascinating survey of solo violin music of the last 25 years and her playing, often forceful and uncompromising – at the climax of the Penderecki, in the Benjamin Canon and in the second Carter piece – carries real conviction. The more delicate pieces, for instance the lovely Benjamin ‘Lauer Lied’, are just as persuasive and her adoption of Hungarian improvisatory style in Kurtág’s ‘In nomine all’ungarese’ conveys a strong sense of enjoyment.
Ferschtman’s programme is clearly planned so that each piece illuminates its companions, and is satisfyingly framed by the Biber Passacaglia and the Bach Chaconne. The Bartók continues and elaborates Biber’s G minor sonorities and we can hear how Berio takes a stage further the insistent tension we find in the Bartók. As to the performances, the Berio is suitably uncompromising at the start and wonderfully dextrous in the quick passagework. And the two earlier works demonstrate a thorough familiarity with the demands of Baroque style: each of the dances in the Bach Partita has a strong and appropriate rhythmic character. The challenge of the Chaconne is met with great confidence – I was especially impressed by the cumulative effect of the long arpeggiando passage before the turn to D major and by Ferschtman’s finely expressive phrasing when the music returns to the minor mode.