Monday 19 December 2011

Maria Bachmann: Glass Heart

Glass Heart
Glass, Schubert, Bach/Gounod, Ravel

Maria Bachmann (violin)
Jon Klibonoff (piano)

Orange Mountain Music OMM7006

Maria Bachmann holds a cut glass heart before her on the cover of this violin recital disc and, indeed, the Glass is the heart of a programme ostensibly designed to compliment a new work for violin and piano.  Philip Glass has written a violin sonata and, with it, has stepped into a long and formidable tradition hinted at in this attractive and enjoyable album.  Does Glass's new work hold its own against such formidable companions as Schubert's great A major Sonata?  I'm not so sure.

Glass Heart follows swiftly from Orange Mountain Music's live recording of Glass's 2nd Violin Concerto, subtitled the American Four Seasons, but Maria Bachmann's playing on the present album presents none of the problems of Robert MacDuffie's strained and inconsistent performance in the concerto.  Bachmann's way with Glass is tender and gently expressive and her mellow tone is suited to the sonata.  She is well balanced with pianist Jon Klibonoff, who throughout demstroates the same sensitivity and lightness of touch.  The sonata, though, is less memorable.  For the most part, it feels like a retread of the familiar Glass style, complete with copious arpeggios and repetitive figurations.  It might seem ignorant to accuse the most high profile of minimalists of being repetitive, but here Glass's repetitions seem more to do with a musical style based around a paucity of material than one the hypnotic and slowly transforming minimalism of old.  Each movement is actually based on a conventional chaconne model and, in the case of the first movement, the sequence of underlying chords yields only limited possibilities.  There are some moments of finely realised beauty, however; the second movement stands out for its regretful and reflective character and its opening bars are really quite special.  If only the rest were that good.

The booklet notes suggest that the rest of the programme has been chosen to reflect aspects of Glass's musical character.  Gounod's heavenly Ave Maria melody over Bach's masterclass in arpeggiated writing is an obvious comparison, though I feel the Bach/Gounod team do it rather better.  I suppose certain works of Schubert share Glass's introspective quality, but not the Sonata in A (originally published as the Duo) and in any case, the comparison between Glass's Sonata and Schubert's isn't a kind one.  Schubert's Sonata is a great work, though Bachmann's subdued take on the first movement saps some of its energy.  She seems always to be pulling back from Klibonoff's more incisive accompaniment and is unresponsive to the darting changes of character.  Her playing is stylish, though some of her more extravagant shifts are in poor taste and she generally is better suited to Ravel's posthumously published violin sonata, which receives a lovely performance.  Again, the stated connection to Glass's music is dubious, but Bachmann's sweet tone and control of colour suit it perfectly. 

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