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CD Feature/ Patricia Kopatchinskaja & Fazil Say: "Beethoven/ Ravel/ Bartok/ Say"

img  Tobias

Classical music is a peculiar discipline. Regardless of their tastes and preferences, most audiences tend to favour the established, the proven and the canonised. But no other genre matches its comparable mistrust, dislike and arrogance towards the achievements of coeval creative brains. How on earth Moldovan Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has managed to fit into this mood of suspicion and retro-nostalgia is anybody's guess. Her interests are eclectic, her passions diverse, her temperament is her compass and her grasp of history holistic. She enjoys improvisation, has turned into a cherished companion of open-minded composers and given fresh twists to the standard repertoire. Her private ticks and little idiosyncrasies have naturally branded her an outsider, even though she has decided to roam the fringes of the scene instead of staging a rebellion. During the agreeable years of the music industry, she refused to record a CD. Now, she debuts at a time when major companies are either disappearing into the digital domain or turning into mere administrators of a golden past. And a lot could have gone wrong.

A collaborational Effort
For the better part of the past decade, Kopatchinskaja has, after all, made the stage her space for exploration and experimentation and for channeling the ideas of the most diverse composers to the public (her current repertoire for solo recitals doesn't only span a full three-hundred years, but includes names even initiated listeners will never have heard of). Every note she played was either captioned in the memory of her audience or lost forever in the airwaves of theatres and concert halls around the world. Victorious performances turned into newspaper snippets on her homepage - if you weren't there, you would never know about the magic of these moments. In itself, that is nothing new. Just like Jazz, Classical Music is performance-oriented. A printed score isn't worth a penny without the adequate artist to bring it to life. Or, as Turkish Pianist and Composer Fazil Fazil Say puts it in the booklet, „Patricia took my Violin Concerto further and found a special Violin sound for it. She has actually made the work better.“ As history has shown, this ability doesn't always translate to the recording situation. In the absence of that emotional suspense and subcutaneous excitement, many experienced Blues artists have faltered where, in a decrepit shack filled to the brim with spectators and beer-soaked tension, they would flourish.

If Kopatchinskaja hasn't lost her way, then maybe that is down to the fact that her studio premiere is, in fact, not a solo- but a collaborational effort. Because her communication with Say has mostly been non-verbal and marked by a shared grasp of the soul of their programs, their interaction is fueled by a positive, energetic tension by default. To genre-aficionados, this kind of approach must seem like a paradox. Knowledge is considered inferior to understanding here, the intellect is softly guided by intuition. Vague historic discussions are replaced by precise gestures, theories proven or dispelled by just „letting it rip“. Even if the disc was recorded over what were surely a myriad of takes and even if the end-result was, no doubt, subject to the same minute editing process as any other comparable CD, its roots firmly lie in the shared moments of playing in front of real and quite tangible audiences. With Say and Kopatchinskja, the album as a creative format returns to its original functionality: Providing a space to aim for a different perspective, for a new take or a challenge of what seemed self-evident, or simply to attain a particular form of perfection.

21st Century Artists
If the album indeed fulfills almost all of the above-mentioned aims, then this is because the duo isn't asking what these pieces may have been about at the time when they were written, but what they mean to them in this very instant as 21st century artists. „How important is contemporary music to you?“, Manuel Brug asks in an interview included in the booklet, but you only need to listen to a few bars of Beethoven's „Kreutzer Sonata“ to know that Kopatchinskaja's tone has been shaped by generations of musicians and a continuum dating back far longer than any of the composers included here. It is an inquisitive tone, a brittle, open and organic sound enriched by sensual traces of the microscopic impurities of the strings her bow is scanning like the grooves of a Vinyl record. It appears from silence and returns to it, leaving streaks of harmonics on the canvas. It can be lyrical or demure, romantic or realistic, euphoric or pan-demonic and sometimes it will start out as one of these and run through different emotional states before returning to its beginning. It is infinitely sensitive, asking questions instead of making definitive statements. And yet it is never indecisive. This tone may seem fragile, but it penetrates the fabric of truth like a sharp needle.

Kopatchinskaja is not trying to put down lofi-versions of these pieces compared to the glossy productions of some of her colleagues though. Rather, she consciously drops all associations and notions of what a piece stands for in the moment of playing it. If you find yourself marveling at her renditions, replete with surprising twists and unique strokes, then that is probably because she seems quite surprised herself. Her interpretations are purifying processes of wilfully forgetting herself. Which is also why she eschews hollow virtuosity and keeps defying even the most generally accepted notions. I tend to disagree with Say's above-mentioned statement in the sense that, by default, a performer can not make a work as such better or worse. But what Kopatchinskaja is doing here truly does come close to composing: She is questioning and recreating the work from within, extending its reach and replenishing its potential. It doesn't matter whether Beethoven would have enjoyed her performance or not. What does, however, is that one can't help but feel that he would have smiled upon hearing it.

An even more astounding Ravel
Even though medial attention has focussed on the „Kreutzer“, the Ravel Violin Sonata she and Say have recorded is even more astounding, taking the piece firmly into the new millennium, breathtakingly balancing between chunky dissonance, sound art and poetic debauchery. In Bartok's „Romanian Folk Dances“, they destroy the usual display of picture-postcard-passion, replacing it with a sound that smells of earth, tears and desire. And Say's own contribution to the program is haunted by hints at jazzy Upright-Bass lines and bewildering mood swings. It is a combination that doesn't seem as though it might work on paper, but makes complete sense in practise.

As always, of course, there was the danger of being misunderstood. Already, some have referred to Kopatchinskaja's „Kreutzer“ as „brusque“, while Germany's biggest magazine on classical music, possibly impressed by the popular impact of the CD, referred to her as a „Violin Girlie“. And if a lot of newspapers are now praising the wayward nature of the album, then that won't keep radio stations from gleefully ignoring it and most listeners from going for a safer choice when visiting their local record store. But the most important thing is that, against all odds, Kopatchinskaja has gone ahead and realised her vision. It is a courageous effort, an inspiring interpretation and an extended hand both towards the new-music-apostles and the traditionalists. A lot could have gone wrong. After listening to her first official record, however, it is hard not to believe that the future belongs to her.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Patricia Kopatchinskaja
Homepage: Fazil Say
Homepage: Naive Classical Recordings

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