Recorded in Berlin’s Jesus-Christus-Kirche, and with a programme juxtaposing older with newer solo violin repertoire, this latest recital disc from Michael Barenboim has much in common with the excellent Bach, Bartók and Boulez solo violin programme he released last year (3/17). However, in other ways it’s taking a very different and more emotionally potent exploratory tack, because whereas last year’s human-interest linking thread came in the shape of Yehudi Menuhin, this time Barenboim has paired a musicological ‘history of Italian solo violin literature’ theme with the universally resonant idea of ‘Ecstasy and Abyss’. The result is a set of performances with not a small amount of emotional kick to them.
In fact, overall, this is a recital over which everything combines to fantastic affect. The Sciarrino Capricii of 1976 would be a striking way to open any disc, for instance, but all the more so here within the Jesus-Christus-Kirche’s giant, characterful acoustic; take the Vivace’s opening hail of little sound-arrows shooting off into its cavernous space to stunning effect, or the Andante, whose rippling, shimmering figures sound like little fractals of sunlight catching the floating dust particles. It’s incredibly atmospheric stuff, even for those readers whose tastes will lean more towards the disc’s Tartini and Paganini offerings. Plus, if you zip to the end of the programme for the non-consecutively ordered selection of Paganini’s Op 1 Caprices, you’ll instantly hear in No 1’s scatter-hail of spiccato demisemiquaver figures a possible inspiration for that Sciarrino Vivace.
These outer sets of works have, of course, elements of both ‘ecstasy and abyss’ about them. However, part of the programme’s brilliance is the way in which, after the Sciarrino, Barrenboim then uses Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata – appearing here to brilliant effect without its usual accompaniment – to start us on a gradual descent into an emotional ‘abyss’; initially imperceptibly, but after the concluding Allegro assai’s long, angry bow strokes it’s no surprise to be pushed out of the frying pan and into the fire of Berio’s Sequenza VIII at the programme’s core. Add Barenboim being on fire himself, technically and interpretationally, and it all adds up to a fantastically engaging listen.