Saturday, 12 December 2015

Kristof Barati, and Reto Kuppel

I listened with great pleasure to a new CD from the immensely talented Kristof Barati on which he plays 13 well-known pieces for violin and piano by Sarasate, Wieniawski, Tchaikovsky, et al. In none of the pieces does he put a foot wrong, technically or musically. I might wonder a little at his rhythms in Sarasate's Romanza Andaluza, but that's about it.

My only reservations over the 70 minutes of excellent music, excellent violin playing, and excellent recording are personal: all the pieces Barati plays here are too well known (to me). I have 40 recordings of Wieniawski's Scherzo and Tarantella, and 45 of Sarasate's Romanza Andaluza ! I would never have purchased such a recording of popular gems had it not been Barati playing them.

My second reservation concerns the two pieces on this CD by Heinrich Ernst. Ernst wrote quite a bit of attractive music for his instrument, the violin. The two usual pieces trotted out by Barati are not among Ernst's best compositions: the “Last Rose of Summer” variations, and the “Erlkönig” caprice. Both these works have always seemed to me to be circus pieces, where one waits to hear when – and if – the violinist fails the test. Needless to say, Barati does not, but the events are technical tours de force rather than musical ones. Extended passages in harmonics, and double-stopped harmonics, are hell on earth to play for a violinist. But the interest is purely the technical challenge, not a musical one. I always find the last few minutes of the Last Rose faintly embarrassing and, after a first hearing, always press the “next track” button.

Barati's CD is a big contrast to 74 minutes of solo violin pieces by Henri Vieuxtemps, played by Reto Kuppel. If ever the violin has a patron saint, it will be St. Naxos who, year after year and decade after decade, gives us relatively unknown master violinists playing – often – relatively unknown music. I did not know any of the 19 pieces on this new CD; more's the pity. There are some real gems amongst them (and the étude de concert Op 16 No.1 deserves to become as hackneyed as Wieniawski's Légende as featured by Barati). Reto Kuppel (a new name to me) deserves honours for his playing here. Henri Vieuxtemps was a highly talented composer, as well as a violinist, and all his music is well worth listening to, these solo pieces for the music as well as for the (considerable) technical challenges. Unlike Ernst and Paganini, however, Vieuxtemps' technical challenges are musical, as well as purely technical. Bravo Herr Kuppel, Monsieur Vieuxtemps, and Naxos.

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