March 11-18, 2004
By Steve Smith
Time Out New York original link

Jennifer Koh: Violin Fantasies (Cedille)

The rehabilitation of killer serialist Arnold Schoenberg proceeds apace, as more and more musicians take his works onto their concert programs, underlining affinities with Viennese Romanticism, Brahms and the like. That process continues with violinist Jennifer Koh's new disc, on which Schoenberg's Phantasy for Violin with Piano Accompaniment, the composer's final work, shares space with Schubert and Schumann—not to mention jazz avant-gardist Ornette Coleman.

Koh makes no apology for the flinty angularity of Schoenberg's Phantasy. Still, her playing draws out the composer's terse, economical poetry, which is splashed across the stolid accompaniment like glints of light playing across the surface of a lake. Koh and her pianist, Reiko Uchida, are more evenly matched in Schubert's Fantasie in C, a veritable orgy of unbridled melody passed back and forth from violin to piano. Koh's performance has all the requisite fire and passion the piece demands, yet her tone is never anything less than sweet and gracious. The same holds true in Schumann's virtuosic Fantasie in C, in which Koh makes a daunting solo cadenza sound effortless.

The homespun melodic motive that opens Ornette Coleman's Trinity, a short work for unaccompanied violin, is immediately subjected to the sort of writhing modulations and ruminative permutations that will be familiar to fans of Coleman's saxophone playing. What once was considered radical—even heretical—among jazz circles sounds by turns sunny, wistful and dreamy here. Up to now, few of Coleman's "classical" compositions have demonstrated staying power, but this brief, songful solo ought to prove one of the exceptions.