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Two X Four: Bach, Glass, Clyne, Ludwig / Koh, Laredo

Bach / Clyne / Glass / Ludwig
Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Cedille Records   Catalog #: 146   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian BachPhilip GlassAnna ClyneDavid Ludwig
Performer:  Jaime LaredoJennifer Koh
Conductor:  Vinay Parameswaran
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Curtis 20/21 Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 52 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Jennifer Koh has been cited previously on this website several times for her “imaginative and illuminating programming”–and she’s done it again on this disc of violin duets, artfully performed with mentor/teacher Jaime Laredo. In her earlier projects for Cedille, she explores a wide and very interesting array of music from Bach to Jennifer Higdon, Ysaÿe to Kaija Saariaho, and Elliott Carter to John Zorn, Missy Mazzoli, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, including a generous number of commissioned works and world premieres. The lineup here will not disappoint Koh’s fans, offering a truly hip and stylish program of modern works for two violins linked to the genre’s iconic masterwork, Bach’s D minor concerto
Read more BWV 1043.

The Bach concerto is one of those pieces that has such a strong presence, its thematic and rhythmic character so ideally imagined, so immediately affecting and catchy–in the best sense–that you can’t imagine the work existing in any other form or configuration. Vivaldi wrote many concertos for two violins, and they are very pleasant and skillfully written; but Bach wrote only one–and it defined the genre. Koh and Laredo probably have been playing this work in their sleep since they first learned it at about age eight–and here they infuse it with both youthful joy and energy and with an interpretive maturity earned from years of study and performance on the world stage.

Programs such as this, whose repertoire jumps across several centuries–in this case from the 18th to the 20th and 21st–can be a challenge for listeners, who may get yanked from one style and point of view to another, from a piece they love to one they can’t stand, then back again to a more appealing work. Koh seems well aware of this pitfall, and her lineup is one that will keep anyone who stays around after the Bach totally engaged and satisfied with what comes next.

Anna Clyne’s Prince of Clouds is a lovely, lyrical celebration of the violin’s singing voice as well as its capacity for emphatic expression. Philip Glass’ Echorus is, well, Philip Glass. Originally written for Yehudi Menuhin and his protégé Edna Mitchell (and therefore a logical choice for this collaboration), it unsurprisingly exhibits the robotic, emotionless, striding physique of the minimalist traveler, a warmly resonant and totally inoffensive interweaving of timbre and texture, a happy collaboration of two violins with reams of sensuous, spiralling harmonies.

David Ludwig’s 2012 Seasons Lost is a substantial (16-minute) piece that is much more than the individual components of its form and structure–the scoring for two violins and string orchestra is less about the two violins than the larger, very profound confluence of forces, which make quite a powerful statement, as dynamic as anything that might be realized by a larger, more diverse ensemble. Its four movements are smart and inventive. The longest, “Summer (tertius)”, has a theme reminiscent of a famous Chopin prelude; the final one, “Fall (quartus)”, is a vibrant, fiery, gritty, string-minded tour de force, a flight of the bumblebee infused with a ferocious madness and menace, mellowed with a bit of intoxicated levity, then returning to a concluding wild rush to oblivion.

Koh and Laredo are in total command and are completely committed to the music and to convincing us regarding the worthiness of this program. There’s not a weak composition or questionable moment in these performances–and Cedille’s sound, recorded at the Curtis Institute of Music in March, 2013, is in keeping with the label’s traditionally high standard. Highly recommended.

– David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

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TWO X FOUR Jennifer Koh, Jaime Laredo (vn); Vinay Parameswaran, cond; Curtis 20/21 Ens CEDILLE 90000146

BACH Double Violin Concerto. CLYNE Prince of Clouds. GLASS Echorus. D. LUDWIG Seasons Lost.

Jennifer Koh’s collaboration with her erstwhile mentor at the Curtis Institute, Jaime Laredo, has resulted in a program of works for two violins played by both of them: Bach’s Double Violin Concerto and three new pieces, all accompanied by Vinay Parameswaran conducting the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble. In Bach’s and David Ludwig’s works, Laredo plays first violin, while in Anna Clyne’s and Philip Glass’s, Koh does. The recordings of Clyne’s and Ludwig’s works purport to be the first.

The duo adopts quick but not precipitous tempos in the first movement of Bach’s Concerto. Both soloists produce a modern sound that blends well their soloistic counterpart and with the ensemble. They engage in no mannerisms, presenting the music straightforwardly, as they do in the slow movement, though their beauty of tone there provides a focus of interest, rendering their interweaving tonally ingratiating, quite aside from the musical compatibility it evinces. Should their individualities be expressed more obviously? Would the soloists in Bach’s time be clearly distinguishable in such a chamber setting? Quite aside from these more philosophical quibbles, their playing sounds equally homogeneous, as well as highly energetic, in the finale.

Clyne’s 2012 piece, Prince of Clouds, shimmeringly atmospheric and harmonically accessible in its opening, grows texturally chunkier as it progresses, recalling stylistically Benjamin Britten’s keen ear for string textures and resonances—and not only between the soloists but within the ensemble, too. Glass’s Echorus, perhaps even more atmospheric and just as firmly tonal in its harmonic underpinnings, trades on shifting melodic patterns, as do so many of his other works (recalling clouds subtly shifting shapes as they roll, although the two soloists emerge only tentatively from the textures), and rivets listeners’ attention to its hypnotic musical argument. The four movements of Ludwig’s 2012 Seasons Lost represent the four seasons in order but beginning (rather than ending) with “Winter.” The composer suggests that these recall a time before climate change merged the seasons. As do the other two recent works on the program, this one creates atmospheres; and, as does Clyne’s work, it also shows how sharply the composer’s ear discriminates among string sonorities. The composer likens the interweaving violin parts of “Spring” with that of the season’s luxuriantly sprouting greenery, while Summer suggests to him warm nights and bonfires: dark and mysterious and allusive, like the performances. “Fall” brings blowing winds in perhaps the most graphic of the movements, with shriller, almost Stravinskian sonorities and harmonies.

The program evinces a sort of continuity more integral even than the close interaction of the two soloists and the unifying string sonorities: A sort of downy blanket covers all of it, generating lots of warmth without inducing somnolence. Can this, rather than deterministic or aleatory blips and bangs, be the future of music? Has the tonal system really been played out, and did the experiments now almost a century old really come about as a result of historic inevitability? Many listeners could perhaps accept this program as a sort of gentle answer. In any case, the recital should appeal broadly for its performances and for its program (to say nothing of its clear recorded sound). It doesn’t jettison the past so much as it establishes a sort of healing continuity. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Jaime Laredo (Violin), Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Conductor:  Vinay Parameswaran
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Curtis 20/21 Ensemble
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1717-1723; Cöthen, Germany 
Venue:  The Miriam and Robert Gould Rehearsal Ha 
Length: 14 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Echorus by Philip Glass
Performer:  Jaime Laredo (Violin), Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Conductor:  Vinay Parameswaran
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Curtis 20/21 Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994-1995; USA 
Venue:  The Miriam and Robert Gould Rehearsal Ha 
Length: 7 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Prince of Clouds, for 2 violins & string orchestra by Anna Clyne
Performer:  Jaime Laredo (Violin), Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Conductor:  Vinay Parameswaran
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Curtis 20/21 Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2012 
Venue:  The Miriam and Robert Gould Rehearsal Ha 
Length: 13 Minutes 35 Secs. 
Seasons Lost, for 2 violins & string orchestra by David Ludwig
Performer:  Jaime Laredo (Violin), Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Conductor:  Vinay Parameswaran
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Curtis 20/21 Ensemble
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2012 
Venue:  The Miriam and Robert Gould Rehearsal Ha 
Length: 15 Minutes 28 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Concerto for 2 Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043: I. Vivace
Concerto for 2 Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043: II. Largo ma non tanto
Concerto for 2 Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043: III. Allegro
Prince of Clouds
Seasons Lost: I. Winter
Seasons Lost: II. Spring
Seasons Lost: III. Summer
Seasons Lost: IV. Fall

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