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LEBRECHT LISTENS | The Violin Is Revelatory In Two New Releases

By Norman Lebrecht on January 20, 2023

L-R: Piet Koornhof; Carolin Widmann (Photos courtesy of the artists)
L-R: Piet Koornhof; Carolin Widmann (Photos courtesy of the artists)

Carolin Widmann: L’Aurore (ECM)


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No instrument does introspection like the violin. Ours may not be a time for big violin personalities — the Mischa, Jascha, Toscha , Sascha pack of George Gershwin’s song — but some of today’s smaller voices have much to say, if only we can find the esoteric releases and spare the time to listen.

Carolin Widmann, sister of the eminent German composer Jörg Widmann, frames her solo recital around meditations by JS Bach and the medieval nun Hildegard of Bingen. In between, she plays substantial pieces by two of the 20th century’s foremost virtuosos, the Romanian George Enescu and the Belgian Eugène Ysaye. At the heart of the album lie three two-minute miniatures by the living English composer George Benjamin.

By doing so she draws the ear into every era of Western music — monastic, classical, romantic and modern — transacting connections that are not normally accessible. Widmann is a serious thinker and a fabulous player in her 50s. Her instrument is a 1782 Guadagnini.

Giya Kancheli: 18 Miniatures & Middelheim (Delos)


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The Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, an early refugee from the collapsing Soviet Union, is known chiefly for his expressive symphonies, each a vital orchestral document of its time. His 18 miniatures for violin and piano are drawn from his many theatre and film scores, much in the way the Erich Korngold and Nino Rota recycled their screen hits for the concert hall.

Unlike them, Kancheli (who died in 2019), wrote very small for violin and piano, delving inward for truths he could not express on film or under Communism. The music is hypnotic, on second listening addictive. The players on this Delos release are a pair of South Africans, Piet Koornhof and Albie van Schalkwyk. Utterly revelatory.

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