The young Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja takes you on a
wild ride in this programme of Hungarian violin concertos. She is clearly
the dominant force in these recordings, though Peter
does not take a backseat in his partnership role. With immediate sound,
these impassioned performances grab you from the beginning and never
let go. Represented here are two of the 20th
greatest works in the violin concerto repertoire and a new concerto
that is making its recorded debut - as far as I can tell.
Bartók’s mature violin concerto has been recorded many
times and I’ve heard a good number of these recordings, although
not the recent ones by James Ehnes (Chandos) or Barnabás Kelemen
(Hungaroton). Kopatchinskaja treats the work as if it were newly composed
and avoids comparison with recordings of the past. Eötvös
is of the same mind. This in other words is a bold interpretation.
One might find the account a bit over the top, especially with Kopatchinskaja’s
frequent use of portamento. Some of it sounds rather like gypsy music,
which is not that far off what the composer may have intended. Yet
she’s not always intense and pares down her sound, playing with
a minimum of vibrato as at the beginning of the second movement. I
would not want hers as my only recording. Nor would I recommend it
to someone who had never heard the work before. Kyung-Wha Chung with
Simon Rattle on EMI might be a better bet. Or, if you want Bartók’s
original thoughts on the work, either Christian Tetzlaff (Virgin Classics)
or Viktoria Mullova (Philips) is recommendable. I actually prefer
the original version with its brassy ending. Nonetheless, right now
I am quite taken with this new account. It is tremendously exciting.
I have no reservations whatsoever with Kopatchinskaja and Eötvös
in their account of the Ligeti. They seem perfectly suited to the
concerto, and it is for me one of the composer’s very greatest
works. Composed near the end of his career, Ligeti seems to sum up
his entire oeuvre with references going back to his Musica ricercata
The lovely melody that forms the basis of the second movement, for
example, is taken directly from the earlier piano work - or the arrangement
he made for wind quintet in the Six Bagatelles. For Kopatchinskaja,
Ligeti’s Violin Concerto is the best violin concerto after Beethoven.
I might not go quite that far because it would leave out Brahms, the
Bartók included here, and Berg among others. Still, Ligeti’s
work is on an equal level of importance as those and has received
the acclaim it so deserves. It, too, has been lucky on disc from its
first recording with its dedicatee, Saschko Gawriloff (DG), to Frank
Peter Zimmermann, the latter as part of Teldec’s monumental
Ligeti Project. Kopatchinskaja more than holds her own in this company
and plays the living daylights out of the concert. At the same time
she is meltingly beautiful in the lyrical second movement. What makes
her performance unique, though, is the cadenza she composed for the
finale. It is jaw dropping in its virtuosity. She sounds as though
she will go into orbit at any moment! Ligeti did not supply a cadenza
and had Gawriloff write his own. It was his that is in the published
score, but the composer left it up to the soloist to provide his or
her own cadenza. At one point (track 5, 6:22-6:38) there is what sounds
like a female voice in harmony with the violin during a repeat of
the second movement’s principal theme. Is it Kopatchinskaja
singing along, or is it just one of the ocarinas that sounds so human?
Ligeti’s scoring of the chamber orchestra for this work is as
inventive as anything he composed. At any rate, the performance by
all concerned is a marvel, and the recording is equally superb.
The new work on the disc by composer and conductor Eötvös,
another violin concerto titled “Seven” is a bit of puzzle
to me. The title refers to the seven astronauts who perished in the
Columbia disaster and Eötvös dedicated his work to them.
In addition to the soloist, there are six violins positioned around
the performance area. These seven violinists are supposed to represent
the astronauts. The work is divided, basically, in two parts. The
first consists of four “cadenzas,” as the composer calls
them, which are then followed by a single second part lasting slightly
longer than all four cadenzas together. These are not cadenzas in
the traditional sense; they are all accompanied by the orchestra and
contain a variety of moods, but are mostly declamatory. Near the beginning
of Part II (Track 8 starting about a minute in), the concerto sounds
like it’s about to take off into outer space, which is appropriate
since it is a tribute to astronauts. At other times the concerto takes
on a folkloric tone and is rather evocative of klezmer music. Eötvös,
according to the notes, was influenced by the archetypal sound of
the cimbalom, though this instrument does not appear in the work.
Again the work requires a real virtuoso, and one can assume the performance
here is authoritative. I have not made up my mind about the concerto.
While I find it colorful and well orchestrated with a difficult violin
part, I also find it rather disjointed and hard to pin down. Perhaps
with additional hearings it will begin to make more sense to me.
Naïve’s production is arty with a double-fold sleeve and
pocket for the booklet. The notes are adequate and in French with
English and German translations. Although the total timing is too
long for a single disc and the Ligeti has a whole disc to itself,
the two-disc set is selling for the price of a single CD.
There are so many young violinists making waves today, but no one
more exciting than Patricia Kopatchinskaja, if these performances
are indicative of her talent.