By David Vernier
In the early days of CDs and digital recording it was always something worth noting when, as a reviewer you heard something that sounded exactly like you were in the room with the performer, live, in person. It was special, and stunning, and not so common. Now, of course, this is something that listeners are not unaccustomed to, but nevertheless—as tiny earphones, iPhones, and automobile and computer speakers are becoming the most common listening media—the experience of true, what many listeners know as “audiophile” sound, is virtually unknown to a whole generation of music consumers.
Cedille is one of those record labels that never compromises on sound, of the audiophile quality, and this release from violinist Jennifer Koh is proof, not only of the exciting effect of vibrant, natural, you-are-there sonics, but of the need to listen on a full-sized set of speakers powered by a respectable sound system, enabling you to reap the full rewards of this outstanding recital.
Koh has proved herself not only a virtuoso solo-violinist on a couple of earlier first-rate Cedille recordings, but also as a master programmer, knowing what to choose and how to coherently, cohesively join the repertoire in order to engage rather than obligate listeners. This current recording logically begins and ends with Bach Partitas, but Koh fills the intervening space in such a way that we never are surprised or jolted by the transition from the 18th to 19th to 20th centuries—and each of the selections maintains a connection to Bach’s solo violin works, from Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2 (which famously quotes Bach’s Partita No. 3), to Kaija Saariaho’s Nocturne (which also quotes from Bach’s Partita No. 3) and Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve, O My Heart (with its reference to the famous Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2).
Koh makes short work of the Bach pieces—not in a bad sense: she just nails these works with a confident technique and a free-flowing, un-mannered style that remains true to Bach yet reminds us that a modern violinist is at the helm. Although ostensibly “modern”, the works by Saariaho and Mazzoli still incorporate time-honored traditions of solo-violin writing and don’t stray into what some might call “experimental” territory. These are both very ingratiating and accessible works to anyone who appreciates interesting, involving, intelligently written new violin music. You might quibble with Mazzoli’s seeming obsession with double-stops, but in the context of the whole recital, it fits, it works, and fans of violin music and playing will celebrate this disc, and will certainly look forward to more, more from this very talented Jennifer Koh. She’s terrific. Highly recommended.
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