Notes and Editorial Reviews
Isabelle Faust (vn); Claudio Abbado, cond; Mozart O
HARMONIA MUNDI 902105 (68:58)
Isabelle Faust draws a tone from the 1704 Sleeping Beauty Stradivari in the first movement of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto that at times hardly resembles the normal tone of the instrument, not only because of the sparse vibrato that she employs but also because of the manner of her tone production. The resulting
timbres, almost surreal, make her performance of the first movement almost sound as though refracted by a fun-house mirror—without, of course, the levity such distortion might produce. In fact, at times, as during the second movement (or the second half of the first movement or section), she and Claudio Abbado create a downright disturbing atmosphere. Even patterns of notes that seem almost fey in, say, André Gertler’s celebrated recording only intensify the sense of horror in Faust’s and Abbado’s reading—as do occasional menacing growls in the lower orchestral registers. Conductor and soloist tear into the second movement (“Tragedy”), with a ferocity that makes Gertler sound almost polite. Faust’s snarling creates an ominous sense of diseased delirium, so much so that the climax of the “Tragedy” hardly bears listening. If this description seems all too purple, listen to the recording and discover how inadequately prose conveys its effect. The second movement alone constitutes a journey of the soul, by turns sensitively reflective, horrifying, and gloomy, and, in the last section, based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorale
Es ist genug
, achieving sublime transcendence. The performance realizes, in fact, perhaps more of the score’s inherent drama than any I’ve heard, and Faust’s flintiness, which enables her to chisel striking interpretations of works by composers closer to the mainstream, puts her over the top, in the best sense, in Berg’s haunting threnody. Beside Arthur Grumiaux’s sweeter reading of the work on Decca Eloquence 480 0481,
34:1, Faust’s tweaks raw nerve endings, even in quieter, more reflective passages (Fauré’s gentle Requiem, perhaps, as compared to the thunder of Berlioz’s
in Faust’s recording), though Grumiaux hardly lacks appreciation for the work’s stormy drama.
Faust’s booklet note makes an attempt at a
, reconciling Berg’s work with its discmate, Ludwig van Beethoven’s concerto. Faust recorded Beethoven’s work with Ji?í B?lohlávek and the Prague Philharmonia on Harmonia Mundi 901944,
32:4, so this version represents her second go at it in about three years. She takes nothing for granted, and passagework in the first movement that might have seemed to harbor few possibilities for further insight reveal them nonetheless. And unlike the individuality that Anne-Sophie Mutter displays in her reading with Kurt Masur (Deutsche Grammophon 289 471 349,
26:5 and 26:6), Faust’s doesn’t depend on bizarre or eldritch mannerisms. In addition, she achieves her personalization against the granitic majesty of Abbado’s orchestral accompaniment, if it’s at all appropriate to call it that. If tempos occasionally feel different from those of Faust’s earlier reading, they’re really not—not very much different, anyway; the timings remain generally comparable. Faust and Abbado build to overwhelming climaxes, but they’re no less imposing in more relaxed passagework. Faust again chooses a virtuosic adaptation of Beethoven’s own cadenza (including timpani) for his version of the concerto for piano, but this time she seems to make more sense of the patterned passagework. In the slow movement, she hardly discovers the same kind of repose (especially in the middle section, to which she nevertheless imparts a high seriousness, reflecting Abbado’s; together they make the whole communicate) as did Georg Kulenkampff, whose performance with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has recently been made available on Pristine 325. After a tumultuous transitional cadenza, also roughly hewn by Faust, the soloist and orchestra give a strong-minded account of the finale, with Faust’s sharp articulation in rapid passages giving the dance-like sections a bright but hard gem-like glint.
Isabelle Faust proves once again how close to the center she can hew in works as diverse as Beethoven’s and Berg’s concertos, while still displaying a highly individualized manner. The recorded sound is reverberant, with the violin placed well in front of the orchestra. For those who wish to explore the outer reaches of expressivity latent in Berg’s concerto, Faust’s reading should be a revelation, but her performance of Beethoven’s should be no disappointing makeweight. And her collaboration with Abbado nudges the recommendation to the highest level of urgency.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Isabelle Faust (Violin)
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Violin by Alban Berg
Isabelle Faust (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1935; Austria
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