Notes and Editorial Reviews
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