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Rhapsodic Musings - Carter, Salonen, Zorn, Et Al / Jennifer Koh

Release Date: 09/29/2009 
Label:  Cedille Records   Catalog #: 113   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Esa-Pekka SalonenElliott CarterAugusta Read ThomasJohn Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Concert violinists who've achieved prominence on the stage and on recordings have spent most of their lives studying, practicing, learning, and perfecting the standards of the repertoire, almost all of which come from the 18th and 19th centuries. The styles and techniques for realizing these concertos and sonatas become ingrained, part of the soloist's life--perhaps a bit too much at times! So you could think of this program as a chance to hear what such a virtuoso performer might do to indulge her need to occasionally reset, rethink, and refresh her stylistic sensibilities and technical skills--and to simply let loose of the normal strictures and structures of the classical repertoire.
Read more /> I wouldn't exactly call these pieces "rhapsodic", or even "musings" (the title comes from one of the Elliott Carter works); they will challenge the listener's full attention and require just a little bit of his or her own capacity to "rethink" the norms of violin playing. These pieces, to varying degrees, exploit the range and technical possibilities of the instrument--and performer!--while retaining fundamental and traditional articulations and expressive devices--lots of multiple-stops, tremolos, harmonics, glissandos, etc., mixed in with the abundant and necessary melodic/thematic material. The works range from the more "traditional" Lachen Verlernt by Esa-Pekka Salonen to John Zorn's Goetia, a truly "demonic" set of eight pieces (incantations) written for Jennifer Koh, its title defined in Paul Griffiths' excellent notes as "a system of black magic used to conjure demons". The work's guiding feature is that each of the eight movements utilizes the "same sequence of 277 pitches".

Koh is a magnificent and exciting artist, establishing from the first notes of the first piece a vital, vibrant presence, her instrument truly speaking in whatever language the notes, phrases, melodies, harmonies, and "effects" suggest. She has showed similar technical prowess and artistic accomplishment in many other Cedille recordings, such as Solo Chaconnes from 2002 (another totally unaccompanied recital) and the fabulous String Poetic, with pianist Reiko Uchida. Here she does seem to be in her own special world, not knowing or necessarily caring if we're listening--just playing her heart out in these difficult but ultimately accessible and engaging pieces. Of course, I'm sure she wouldn't mind if we're just outside the door, listening in--and if you are open to hearing some truly modern violin works, and some uncompromising, extraordinary violin playing, recorded in sound that fully captures the brilliance and richness of Koh's Strad, then you should definitely open the door and go in.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com


Rumor has it that there’s a big chunk of the classical music listening public that is afraid of contemporary music. When it’s played with the passion and conviction that violinist Jennifer Koh generates on behalf of these three 21st-century scores (not excluding Elliott Carter’s Four Lauds , which were composed between 1984 and 2000), the skeptics have nothing to fear. She displays impeccable technique and a flawless tonal range regardless of their degree of difficulty, and more important, uncovers the lyrical impulse at the music’s core.

Even so, I think the disc’s title, borrowed from Carter, understates the nature of the music somewhat. None of these works quite suit the state of absorption in thought or dreamy abstraction that my dictionary applies to musing, though rhapsodic they may be. True, Augusta Read Thomas’s Pulsar does resolve its dramatic thrusts, swoops, and soaring with a meditative conclusion. And Carter’s Four Lauds —“Statement—Remembering Aaron” (Copland), “Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi,” “Rhapsodic Musings,” and “Fantasy”—maintain recognizable classical proportions amid their flamboyant gestures. Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachen Verlernt takes its title from a line in Albert Giraud’s sequence of poems, Pierrot Lunaire (in Otto Hartleben’s German translation from the original French, “Mein Lachen/Hab ich verlernt!”—I have unlearned [or forgotten] all my laughter!). The music, however, owes nothing to Schoenberg as it accelerates, chaconne-like, from an introductory lament to a fantasia of impulsive double-stops and sizzling twists of phrase. (Tal Rosner’s accompanying CD-ROM video of geometric and graphically altered imagery choreographed to Lachen Verlernt is a pleasant but extraneous bonus.)

The eight movements of John Zorn’s Goetia provide—perhaps predictably, given his participation in free jazz, thrash rock, and other extravagant musical genres—the most aggressive events and make the most treacherous technical demands on the violinist. The title is derived from the Greek word for sorcery, and relates to the Middle Ages practice of conjuring demons through elaborate spells and numerological systems. In this case, Zorn has devised a sequence of 277 pitches that remain the same in each movement, but whose character changes according to shifts in phrasing, tempo, dynamics, and attack. But, as program booklet annotator Paul Griffiths suggests, the bristling pizzicatos, slashing multi-stops, and moto perpetuo passages, for all their “demonic” intensity, may simply remind us of how the fiddle has long been identified as the devil’s own instrument.

Jennifer Koh is a hell of a violinist (sorry, couldn’t resist), and this is a most impressive recital.

FANFARE: Art Lange
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Works on This Recording

Lachen Verlernt by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002 
Length: 9 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Four Lauds: Statement - Remembering Aaron by Elliott Carter
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984-2000; USA 
Length: 4 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Four Lauds: Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi by Elliott Carter
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984-2000; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Four Lauds: Rhapsodic Musings by Elliott Carter
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984-2000; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 7 Secs. 
Four Lauds: Fantasy by Elliott Carter
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1984-2000; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Pulsar by Augusta Read Thomas
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 1] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 1 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 2] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 3] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 1 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 4] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 5] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 1 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 6] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 2 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 7] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Goetia: [Part 8] by John Zorn
Performer:  Jennifer Koh (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 1 Minutes 59 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Lachen verlernt
4 Lauds: No. 1. Statement: Remembering Aaron
4 Lauds: No. 2. Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi
4 Lauds: No. 3. Rhapsodic Musings
4 Lauds: No. 4. Fantasy: Remembering Roger
Goetia: I. -
Goetia: II. -
Goetia: III. -
Goetia: IV. -
Goetia: V. -
Goetia: VI. -
Goetia: VII. -
Goetia: VIII. -

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