Daniel Hope - Music for Violin by Shostakovich, Penderecki, Pärt & Schnittke. Dmitri Shostakovich: Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134; Krzysztof Penderecki: Cadenza for Solo Violin; Arvo Pärt: spiegel im spiegel; Alfred Schnittke: Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano; Stille Nacht. Daniel Hope, violin; Simon Mulligan, piano. Nimbus CD NI 5631 (68'20)
This release places Daniel Hope in the front rank of violinists who specialize in contemporary classical music. His playing is idiomatic and informed, and he never succumbs to the temptation to show off his virtuosity at the expense of the music. He also shows an awareness of the totality of the music he is playing; he doesn't ramble.
This is most apparent in Shostakovich's Violin Sonata (1969). A work of extraordinary intensity, it can sound like a succession of dreary episodes in the hands of a lesser performer (or one who is not sympathetic to its special demands). Hope and Mulligan, however, succeed by setting a steady pulse and by never attempting to shape the piece through overly expressive playing. This work is not a violinist's showpiece, the piano is an equal partner that doesn't so much accompany the violin as echo and goad it. The snaking melody that opens the piece was one of Shostakovich's first forays into the 12-tone method of Schoenberg (it's rather ironic that both Shostakovich and Stravinski waited until Schoenberg was dead before experimenting with his ideas). The restless and wry feeling it introduces is maintained throughout the piece. I've never heard it sound better than it does here.
The two following pieces by Penderecki and Pärt are slighter works, but they provide a suitable interlude between the sonatas of Shostakovich and Schnittke. Penderecki's Cadenza is a soliloquy in the romantic mode, beginning quietly and rising to dynamic extremes. As is often the case with Penderecki, the violin's resources are exploited to the utmost, with lots of multiple-stopping and aggressive bowing. The Pärt piece, spiegel im spiegel (mirror in the mirror) is a quiet work with arpeggiated triplets on the piano backed by the violin. In another context it would pass for "new age" music, but here it acts as a counterweight to the more emotionally assertive pieces surrounding it.
Alfred Schnittke is obviously an important figure for Daniel Hope. His first, splendid, recording released last year on Nimbus (NI 5582) contained two concertante works by Schnittke. He writes here that "there is no more striking a talent in contemporary music than that of Alfred Schnittke." Hope certainly plays as if he believes that and he achieves a fluency with Schnittke's idiom that at times surpasses that of Gideon Kramer. The Sonata No. 3 has certain affinities with the Shostakovich sonata but is more loosely structured and perhaps more emotionally complex. Schnittke's trademark polystylism is nowhere in evidence here, instead we have a serious and often meditative piece. Hope's impassioned advocacy is persuasive.
Schnittke's dissonant resetting of "Silent Night" provides a charming coda. In both the playing and in the thoughtful programming, where every piece gains in its relation to the others, the disk is an unqualified success.