Notes and Editorial Reviews
Solo Violin Sonatas: No. 3 in C; No. 2 in a. Violin Concertos: in g,
No. 1 in a
Iskandar Widjaja (vn); Berlin Camerata
OEHMS 896 (68:05)
Iskandar Widjaja’s program of Bach’s music includes an unaccompanied sonata (the Third), an unaccompanied partita (the Second), the canonical Violin Concerto in A Minor, and the Violin Concerto in G Minor (transcribed from the original version for harpsichord, which itself probably hails from an
even earlier violin concerto), all played on a violin made by Franciscus Giessenhof in 1793. Widjaja adopts a very slow tempo in the
of the Sonata No. 3 in C Major; and, in conjunction with the recorded sound’s resonance, the effect is downright mesmerizing. In that movement as well as in the Fuga, Widjaja also makes the music to speak naturally by incorporating thoughtful pauses. These could seem self-indulgent or mannered, but they don’t in the context of his mystical reading, the very antithesis of hard-charging versions by, say Jascha Heifetz or Nathan Milstein (do the solo violin sonatas invite that kind of extroversion more than do the cello suites?). Nor does his quieter approach seem lethargic after the first minutes of each movement have passed or grow tiresome in its individuality. But he does snap chords aggressively during the fugue, even if he occasionally shies away from making a grand statement. In the
, he also creates pregnant pauses in the musical lines. Finally, although he plays the last movement with Milstein’s
, listeners by this point in the program shouldn’t be surprised to hear him push and pull the tempo here and there.
In the Concerto in G Minor, the engineers have placed him within rather than in front of the orchestra, creating the effect of chamber rather than symphonic music. This leads to a first movement and a third that sound more polyphonic than they usually do. But Widjaja doesn’t hide in the slow movement, playing it with a sort of melancholy longing that may have lurked underneath the music’s surface in other readings but seldom emerges so strongly as it does here.
Widjaja also delves into the mystical core of Bach’s Solo Partita in A Minor, bringing the searching first movement to a close with a sort of bow trill, a tribute of sorts to the period performance movement. He parses the fugue’s subject into shorter clauses and phrases without sounding as though he’s minced everything in a precious sort of pulverization. The fact that he makes you want to tap your feet in the episodes, even though he doesn’t maintain a rock-steady tempo, suggests the success with which he’s been able to fuse rhythmic vitality with metric freedom. The
, with its eighth-note accompaniment, sounds free but relatively more restrained, perhaps to accommodate the steady pulses that underlie the melody—all demonstrating his adaptability. Freedom returns in the finale, which nevertheless maintains its vigorous forward momentum, especially in the rushing 32nd notes.
The program concludes with the Violin Concerto No. 1. He and the orchestra play its first movement at a bracing tempo—and, once again, he remains well within the orchestra’s web of sound. Remember Isaac Stern playing this work as though accompanied by a large orchestra in a high-Romantic concerto and seemingly well aware of his front-rank position? Widjaja achieves a similar kind of leadership, if more intellectual and musical than physical. Once again, he goes to the podium in the slow movement—and Isaac Stern couldn’t have wished for a brighter spotlight. His tempos in the finale once again seem fresh, vibrant, and bracing.
If Widjaja has been received in his Indonesian homeland, as the booklet states, as a sort of pop star, then he’s succeeded on perhaps an even higher level in bringing rich musical values to the marketplace than have, say, Nigel Kennedy and David Garrett. However that may be, his versions of Bach sound like no others. And he’s accomplished everything without the “benefit” of a 15-million-dollar violin; in fact, he’s incorporated his instrument (many orders of magnitude less valuable objectively) in his personality, as he weds strong timbral individuality to comprehensive technical command and deep musical insight. Urgently recommended as a deeply personal testament from a young violinist, synthesizing much of value from the past with much of value from the present. Even those who don’t favor an approach like his should find it intensely interesting—and riveting.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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