Originality, whether it's embodied in a recently composed work or is presented as a new way of looking at and/or programming older pieces, is a hallmark of ECM's recordings and this one is no exception. I was not familiar with American violinist Michelle Makarski nor with several of the pieces on this disc, most of which are for solo violin. So, as a curious listener with no preconceived notion of this disc's concept or content (I didn't even begin by reading the liner notes), I can happily report that Makarski has succeeded in one of the more underrated aspects of a performer's art: creating a thoughtful, intelligent, purposeful program. Although a quick glance at the composers will tell you thatRead more they are either Italian or have musical ties to Italy and to each other, it takes serious listening to discern the music's stylistic connections, and awareness of the provenance of each work to know that another "theme"--remembrance--lies beneath the collective surface.
The program's connecting thread is a sonata by 18th-century composer Giuseppe Tartini that includes a theme and variations. Makarski intersperses the modern works with the sonata and several of the variations. As you discover, even the 20th century pieces borrow from earlier stylistic techniques--and there are times that Tartini sounds strangely contemporary. But as the program progresses, we are constantly moving along a musical path of varying shadows and light, from traditional tonality to atonality to serialism and back again. It's gentle and subtle, then stark and surprising. Overall, the quality of the modern works is very high, all of it idiomatic, some of it daring, some audacious, some profound, and none redundant or familiar.
Luciano Berio's Due Pezzi, one of two pieces on the disc in which the violin is joined by a piano, is most remarkable for its fascinating dialogue between the two instruments, in its inflections and mannerisms very near to actual speech. The first of Luigi Dallapiccola's Due Studi is one of the finest examples of how techniques of Schoenbergian serialism can actually produce music of striking lyric beauty and warm color; the second shows the same techniques in their more abrasive and garishly hued form (the composer's bitter commentary on fascist brutality). George Rochberg's monumental Caprice Variations--Makarski plays four of the original 50--is a set of studies on Paganini's famous 24th Caprice that confirms the legitimacy of melding new ideas with old forms. Least interesting to me was the title work by Goffredo Petrassi--too much effect, not enough affect (is there any violinistic trick left unexploited here?).
Makarski is a wonderful violinist who varies her sound significantly depending on the piece, from a vibrato-less tone that never bites into the center of the strings, to one that sings, wails, and penetrates. You'll never be bored listening to this--and you're almost certain to find one or two of these pieces ingratiating and interesting enough for many return visits. This is an exceptional disc, surprisingly accessible and uncompromising in its aim to renew modern connections with the past and to discover the unexpected. [11/22/2000]
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