Notes and Editorial Reviews
FOUR STRINGS ONLY
Herwig Zach (vn)
AVIE 2189 (76:47)
Solo Violin Suites: No. 1; No. 2.
Solo Violin Sonata No. 1 in g.
Solo Violin Sonata in G.
Herwig Zach’s second solo recital for Avie (the
first appeared on 2155,
32:6) begins with what sounds like a gulp of breath. That may be no surprise, because the recorded sound in the Kammermusiksaal of Würzburg’s Hochschule für Musik provides a close-up portrait of the artist, surrounded by a modicum of reverberation that sweetens the timbres.
Zach’s program begins with an authoritative reading of Ernest Bloch’s Second Suite for Solo Violin, a work that tests the seal on its tonal envelope. Though its four movements bear titles that suggest rather strong contrasts, Zach’s performance sounds meditative and almost improvisatory throughout (the finale provides a more virtuosic conclusion, though it, too, sounds free and rhapsodic). Throughout, he plays this quintessentially violinistic music with a warmth of tone and subtlety of nuance that could ingratiate a much less genial work with listeners.
Between Bloch’s two suites, Zach has sandwiched Johann Sebastian Bach’s Second Solo Violin Sonata, to which he brings a combination of mature reflection and commanding personalization (as in his ruminative reading of the first movement) and technical panache (as in the dashing reading of the Fuga), reminiscent of Nathan Milstein’s second set of Bach’s solo works from the early 1970s. In the fugue, in particular, Zach blends virtuosic command of the chordal writing with intelligent and pellucid voice-leading. In the slow movement, in which the violin accompanies a flowing melody with repeated notes below, Zach’s accentuation of the accompanying figure may sound to some too heavily accentuated for the graceful lyricism it supports. In the finale, he begins bracingly, but gives way to rhythmic inflections that sometimes seem to impede the movement’s forward momentum.
The program continues with Bloch’s First Suite (Zach’s highly personal notes explain in detail the recital’s order and the many cross-references he finds among its works). This suite begins with a Prelude that returns to the improvisatory manner (not only in the composition but in the performance as well) of the Second Suite that opened the program, and it continues with a musing Andante tranquillo in which Zach creates the same meditative atmosphere that pervaded his reading of the Second Suite. The Allegro that follows seems at first to provide contrast, but as does the Second Suite, it waxes rhapsodic and leads into a probing Andante before Zach’s brilliant performance of the extroverted concluding Allegro energico.
Paul Ben-Haim’s three-movement Solo Violin Sonata sounds equally well conceived for the violin in Zach’s performance. Ben-Haim employs a wider range of instrumental techniques in the first movement, however, and Zach brings to its declamatory passages an impressive grand manner and commanding sonorous voice. Zach’s intense expressivity illuminates the second movement, which frequently recalls the spirit of cantillation. In the finale, he slashes through a virtuosic thicket of bold, dramatic gestures. Hagai Shaham included both of Bloch’s suites and Ben-Haim’s sonata in his program on Hyperion CDA 67571 with Arnon Erez,
30:6. Avie’s engineers have surrounded Zach with greater reverberation, and his performance, as well, seems to maintain a greater tension and vibrancy, as, for example, in the sonata’s first movement. But Zach also seems to display in Ben-Haim’s work a more dramatic, rhetorical sensibility, as he does in Bloch’s.
A performance, by turns slashing in its flying shards of double-stops and hypnotic in its mantra-like repetitions, of Luciano Berio’s
VIII brings the program to a smashing close. Zach displays throughout not only the necessary instrumental command but the musical intelligence and rhetorical instincts to make sense of even the program’s most challenging moments. I urgently recommended Zach’s first solo recital, and there’s little reason for diminished enthusiasm for this one. Urgently recommended, therefore, once again.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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