Rhapsodic Musings: 21st-Century Works for Solo Violin

Jennifer Koh
New York Times

By Allan Kozinn

Jennifer Koh, violinist. Cedille CDR 90000 113; CD.

ONLY four of the seven works on “Rhapsodic Musings” were actually composed in the 21st century, and that’s if you include the title track, composed by Elliott Carter in 2000. The earliest of Mr. Carter’s “Four Lauds,” the “Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi,” dates to 1984, although the others, “Statement — Remembering Aaron” (as in Copland) and “Fantasy — Remembering Roger” (as in Sessions), were composed in 1999, a stone’s throw from the new century.

But a listener can forgive Jennifer Koh the eagerness of her subtitle, given the incandescent readings she offers. The pieces were chosen, she writes in a program note, as part of her “search for a sense of meaning in the days, months and years following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.”

Ms. Koh’s selections are often as much about life as about death. Esa-Pekka Salonen’s “Lachen Verlernt” (2002) — inspired by the “Prayer to Pierrot” in Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” in which the speaker begs Pierrot to restore his lost (or unlearned) ability to laugh — begins wistfully and grows into an intensely emotional score. Its fast chordal bowing suggests not so much regained laughter as the vigor of the search for a hopelessly lost power.

Mr. Carter’s “Four Lauds,” like many of his recent multimovement scores, are disparate works assembled later into sets, though in this case each piece is a tribute to a colleague, and similarities of language and gesture help to bond them. Ms. Koh’s account of the “Riconoscenza” is particularly striking for its rich tone and its evocative touches of portamento.

Her free, expressive vibrato similarly enlivens “Pulsar” (2005), a fluid fantasy by Augusta Read Thomas. And Ms. Koh makes the eight aphoristic movements of John Zorn’s “Goetia” (2002) into a magnificently varied, thoroughly unpedantic overview of contemporary violin techniques, in which playfulness and introspection mingle.