Michael Barenboim: Sciarrino – Tartini – Berio – Paganini

review barenboim x1 cong

After an acclaimed debut solo album of music by Bach, Bartók and Boulez, Barenboim returns with this new recording, in which the word “virtuosic” is used in the Press release. It is that, but the mix of old and more modern means it’s not a CD of two halves, more like three or four. All well played, mind, as he attempts a short history of Italian solo violin literature.

Sciarrino’s 6 Capricci opens. Each caprice (capriccio?) is a collection of ethereal violin sounds; imagine very melodic mice squeaking excitedly for cheese and you get at least an idea of the fragmentary nature of the music. As far as we can tell it was Sciarrino’s attempt to show his advances in technique and notation that led him to compose the work, a homage to the 24 caprices of Niccolo Paganini. Rather palindromically, six of Paganini’s capricci close the programme.

Sciarrino’s take is not melodic. You won’t be sitting down with a glass of sherry to relax while it plays. It does innervate the mind, though.

One description of the work we found said: “Sciarrino notates harmonics that do not exist, ie, do not lie on one of the nodes on the string length that produce an overtone. The intention behind this notation is simply to play as if the harmonic were possible, and the resulting noise becomes part of the sound palette.”

That is really cool composing, and it helps to know that when listening.

This rather startling piece is followed by Giuseppe Tartini’s sonata known as the “Devil’s Trill Sonata,” a solo sonata that requires several technically demanding double stop trills “and is difficult even by modern standards” according to Wikipedia. Violinists may be gripped by the challenges of both Sciarrino and Tartini, but the casual listener will find the latter a rather gorgeous piece of baroque violin.

Wikipedia also reports that one 19th-century myth had it that Tartini had six digits on his left hand, making the trills easier for him to play, and, also according to legend, Tartini was inspired to write the sonata by a dream in which the devil appeared at the foot of his bed playing the violin. A kind of baroque Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Luciano Berio is next, another experimental composer known for his virtuosic solo pieces. It is entitled Sequenza (number eight is on here), and it’s somewhere between the first two pieces, though more akin to the Sciarrino in its modernity, not that it is without appeal.

Paganini closes and brings the programme full circle; some of the music will be familiar to even the most casual listener of classical music.

This is out on Accentus and was recorded at Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin. The release number is ACC 30431.

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