Full marks to the 23-year-old violinist Roman Mints for devoting his debut disc to contemporary music. Full marks, too, to Black Box for managing such a lifelike and spacious sound, in which the piano’s contribution, in the capable hands of Evgenia Chudinovich, never needs to be damped down. These players make a fine team, and one hopes that they will soon tackle even more challenging contemporary repertory on disc.
The two most recent works, by Artem Vassiliev and Elena Langer (fellow students of Mints’s from Moscow) are personable enough, though both fall victim to a penchant for the fulsomely rhapsodic which – it might have been hoped – had been purged from Russian music by Stravinsky. By contrast, Sofia Gubaidulina’s 15-minute balletic fantasy Dancer on a Tightrope (1993) is strongly focused from start to finish, and magnificently imaginative, as well as dramatic, in the way it pits virtuoso violin figuration against a pianist who spends as much time playing directly on the strings as on the keys.
Arvo Part’s protracted Fratres is well characterized, with Mints refreshingly unawed by its solemnity. The remaining works are all brief, but – Lutoslawski’s rather uninspired competition test-piece apart – far from lightweight. Penderecki’s pungent Miniatures (1959) offer a rare sighting of a composer very different from the Penderecki of today, while Schnittke’s derangement of the much-loved carol retains its capacity to chill the blood, however often one hears it. In this performance, the chills are delivered with a special relish for the music’s deconstructive enterprise.'