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CD Feature/ Midori: "Bach/Bartok"

img  Tobias
It is a cliched review opening that five years are like an eternity in pop and rock, but why should things be all that different with classical music? Midori’s last CD dates back to 2003 and even though she has probably never been busier in the semi-decade which lay between her rendition of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Violin Concerto and this album - engaging in humanitarian work, educational programs, taking up her position as Chair of the Strings Department at the University of Southern California and touring incessantly - anyone watching from the sidelines must have come to the conclusion that her media representation has waned of lately. So, in a sense, it would not be entirely unjustified classifying her new record as a comeback.

On the other hand, there’s quite obviously a snag to that. While the Bach-“Sonata No. 2 for Unaccompanied Violin” was at least taped within arm’s length of today, Bartok’s “Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano” stems from a session at Worcester’s Mechanical Hall in 1999. The last time, the word “recording” even comes up in her regularly updated online blog, was in September of 2005. She may have returned to the limelight with this record, but Midori is still not entirely “back”.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As always, there are two approaches to releasing material, one of them regarding a recording as catching a particular, spontaneous moment in one’s life and the other trying to distill the essence of a piece into sacred forms forever. Without openly touching on the subject, Midori has made the implicit statement that the latter applies both to her and the works on this album, correctly dubbed “landmarks” in Eric Wen’s linernotes, solidifying the impression that she is not interested in anything but universal classics.

Of course, the inclusion of Bach also closes a noticeable gap in her long and winding recording career. She has certainly made use of the years well and presents the Sonata in an unmistakable fashion. Her performance is one of straight lines, of fluency even in pronouncedly edgey rhythmic passages, of great warmth and analytical clarity. The technical demands are relegated to second tier, as she seems to approach the piece as a formal experiment, which requires the direct emotional imput of the instrumentalist to blossom. Her assessment that this is one of Bach’s most extrovert pieces may be correct, but it is also a performance-related judgement, brought about by attaching an unfettered tristesse to the opening “Grave” and an elated flow to the closing “Allegro”.

Her best decision for Bartok’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, meanwhile, was taken before the first note was even struck. Robert McDonald on Piano plays with an impressionist coolness, never demonstratively oblique, but always with a great deal of fey allusions. His lucid onomatopoeia forms a natural contrast to Midori, who is far more moody and breakable here than in her Bach. Her expressive modes range from fine threads of harmonics in the second movement to fiery erruptions in the finale and the duo finds a collaborational technique, which is complimentary and solitary at the same time. It is an interpretation which makes sense both on a personal and a historical level and which, with the exception of the third movement, occasionally anticipates the nocturnal side of Jazz.

Thanks to this methodical openness, the album is infused by a friendly avantgardistic touch. In her performances, this music, up to 300 years of age, regains its visionary character again, without even once sounding ethereal, detached or opaque. She may not have entered a studio for three years now, but Midori’s presence on the recording market is surely making itself felt again.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Midori
Homepage: Sony BMG Masterworks

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