The Unsweetened Beauty Of Carolin Widmann

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

CD-Cover-Carolin-WIdmann-LAurore-ECM

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Music may well be demanding but it should always be entertaining. That’s the specialty of Carolin Widmann, who makes beautiful music sound more interesting (see her Schumann Violin Sonatas, for example) and tough music–whether Feldman, Boulez, or, as on this disc, George Benjamin–more ingratiating.

Benjamin’s Three Miniatures, which, in order, come across as fragile, acerbic, and coy (check out the delightfully imaginative pizzicato-playing!), are framed by two massively bold 20th-century solo violin pieces, the rather unknown Fantaisie concertante of Enescu and Ysaÿe’s popular Fifth sonata. In Widmann’s hands, the Fantaisie (which is essentially the solo violin part that’s been extracted from the unfinished Symphonie concertante) becomes an instant stunner: tight, tenacious, zany, bracing, with corners and with edges, complete control, zero syrup yet total tonal beauty. Ditto the Ysaÿe.

With so much unsweetened beauty, you’re bound to be tempted to just listen to HOW Widmann plays, not WHAT. But that would be a shame, because obviously the works have plenty of merit and because there’s more. Framing these two intense works are two different takes of a fragile, sparse-yet-haunting, gently suspended short piece by Hildegard von Bingen. And, call it the encore or the culmination, in the end we get J. S. Bach’s D minor Partita: a formidably articulated, gutsy performance (compare this, for example, to the oddly slack recording of the otherwise redoubtable Isabelle Faust), as pointed and ravishing as all that came before.

There are different tastes in violin playing. This is not Shlomo-Mintz-mellifluousness or Pinchas-Zukerman-caramel; it’s grit and gravel, spunky and puckish, with translucent moments in between. It’s my kind of playing. And on sheer violinistic terms the most attractive recording of the last 10, 20 years.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: L'Aurore

HILDEGARD VON BINGEN: Spiritus sanctus vivificans vita
GEORGE ENESCU: Fantaisie concertante
GEORGE BENJAMIN: Three Miniatures
EUGÈNE YSAŸE: Sonata No. 5
J. S. BACH: Partita No. 2

  • Carolin Widmann (violin)

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