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21st Century Works For Solo Violin

Jennifer Koh, violin

Esa-Pekka Salonen- Lachen Verlernt (2002)
Elliott Carter- Four Lauds (1984- 2000)
Augusta Read Thomas- Pulsar (2003)
John Zorn- Goetia (2002)

Cedille CDL 113

Jennifer Koh made her proms debut this year with Augusta Read Thomas’ Juggler in Paradise; I was mesmerised by her playing but not captivated by the composition. This CD has the same effect; Jennifer Koh plays with intense beauty, a true master of her instrument, but I was left ambivalent to the music.

My favourites here are the more lyrical Lachen Verlernt by Esa- Pekka Salonen and Thomas’ Pulsar. One’s brain can grasp something of their structure and coherence on first listening; indeed Lachen Verlernt is ‘essentially a chaconne’ (Salonen). The CD liner notes help, especially for John Zorn’s Goetia, which makes sense when each movement is viewed as a demonic incantation.

This is not music which grips the listener; one cannot passively listen to it and be drawn in. However, if enough effort is put into this task, it is quite possible that considerable pleasure can be gained from its intellectual understanding. It is also probable that the theatricality of performance, which may play a large part in engaging the audience, is lost on CD. Another tip- don’t listen to the whole disc at one sitting; only the greatest solo violin music, Ysaye and Bach, fares well under these circumstances.

A CD for contemporary music connoisseurs. Having heard the standard of Jennifer Koh’s playing, I will definitely be hunting for her recordings of other repertoire.*

Anna Michel

* q.v. Koh in concertos and fantasies