Less may be more but more is even better – or so Benjamin Beilman seems to think. This 26-year-old American violinist has developed an alarmingly literal approach to the concept of ‘bow attack’, often coming down on the string like a sledgehammer. It definitely brings a pungency to ‘Spectrum’, his new disc of miscellaneous goodies for violin and piano, if perhaps not in the way he intended.
In Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D574, for example, it sounds positively bizarre. But so do various other idiosyncrasies: the violent swells, the galumphing quavers, the rigidly foursquare way with phrasing. Were it not for Yekwon Sunwoo’s delicate pianism, this would score pitifully low on poetry. One senses that Beilman needs a work that gives vent to his more ferocious instincts.
He certainly finds it in Janáček’s primal Violin Sonata, and yet, ironically, it’s here that his capacity for introspection emerges: the Ballada, in particular, offers moments of real mystery and poise. Not that they ever last very long. For the most part Beilman’s tone is too raw, even for Janáček, without the undertow of genuine passion to justify it.
Perhaps this disc’s biggest frustration, however, is its uniformity: rarely do Schubert and Janáček sound so alike. And it’s telling that all six sections of Stravinsky’s Divertimento from Le baiser de la fée feel as though they’ve merged into one. Only in Kreisler’s Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta does Beilman really come into his own. Here is charm, swagger and, yes, refinement, suggesting that a wider colour palette is within this violinist’s reach. If only it weren’t quite so short-lived.