by Walter Simmons
THE RED VIOLIN • Maria Bachmann (vn); Jon Klibonoff (pn) • ENDEAVOR CLASSICS END-1020 (63:58)
CORIGLIANO: The Red Violin (Chaconne). RAVEL: Violin Sonata. MORAVEC: Ariel Fantasy. Double Action. Evermore. COPLAND: Ukelele Serenade. Nocturne.
This recent release will appeal to a fairly broad range of listeners, which is, no doubt, the intention of the producers. What this entails, however, is some of the “gushy” verbal hyperbole associated with “crossover” releases. Nevertheless, there is some very good music here, very well played, which shouldn’t be overlooked.
Perhaps most impressive is the Chaconne for violin and piano that John Corigliano shaped from his Academy Award-winning score to the film The Red Violin (2000). (This is not to be confused with the full-length Red Violin Concerto, of which the Chaconne is its first movement. [Corigliano usually manages to spin off several separate entities from each creative effort.]) Recently, while reviewing his very early choral work, Fern Hill, I speculated as to how Corigliano’s creative development might have evolved, had he pursued the more personal sort of self-expression found in that and other of his pre-1970 works. I think that this Chaconne is an answer to that speculation. It is a very powerful, moving work that explores a rich vein of darkly haunted neo-romanticism. It also may be seen as a turn-of-the-21st-century answer to Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata, a tour de force that exploits the full range of virtuoso violin techniques. Bachmann’s performance is brilliant.
Maria Bachmann is a fabulous violinist, who combines a lusciously rich tone with razor-sharp technical precision; her pianist Jon Klibonoff displays an equivalent level of artistry. They form two-thirds of the Trio Solisti (with the addition of cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach). Trio Solisti are an extraordinary piano trio whose playing I have enjoyed immensely on several occasions. They have associated themselves closely with the compelling music of Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Moravec, and the association has certainly been mutually beneficial. It was Bachmann who, after performing Moravec’s wonderfully exuberant, perpetual-motion Ariel Fantasy, suggested that he expand it into a larger work. The result was the Tempest Fantasy, written for Trio Solisti, the work which eventually went on to earn him the Pulitzer. Moravec’s Double Action is another brief, rhythmically zesty effort, while Evermore, written for Ms. Bachmann’s wedding, displays Moravec’s ability to spin a pure, simple, pretty melody, quite different from the mercurial effervescence characteristic of so much of his music.
Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano is, of course, a masterpiece. Its connection to the rest of this program is its second movement, “Blues,” which links it to the otherwise American program—especially, with the Copland and Gershwin pieces, which all have their roots in American vernacular music.
However, herein lies my main criticism of the recital: For whatever reason—perhaps related to Bachmann’s effort to reach a “crossover” market—in the Gershwin selections, the Copland Ukelele Serenade (a horrible title and a horrible piece), and the slow movement of the Ravel, the violinist exaggerates the bluesy slides and other vernacular touches to the point of excess. The result is rather like a Shakespearean actor reading the “Uncle Remus” tales in dialect, and it largely vitiates the intended effect.
On the other hand, Bachmann plays the outer movements of the Ravel spectacularly well. And she plays the Copland Nocturne with impeccable taste. This appealing 7-minute piece, composed in Paris in 1926, vividly evokes the image of an American sitting alone contemplatively in a smoke-filled Parisian bar during the wee hours of the morning.
All in all, a worthy effort that leans just a little too far over the line.