INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW:
Few current violinists can claim as wide a repertoire and as active a policy of commissioning as Sheppard Skærved, and the present disc offers an excellent and often surprising overview of his solo repertoire. Who would have expect Naji Hakim - Messiaen's successor at La trinité and an improviser par excellence - to come up with a sonata technically in the tradition of Ysaÿe? The Andante, moving from brusque recitative to heightened lyrical discourse, typifies the eclectic but integrated stylistic range of the work.
David Matthews is represented by two contrasting works. The recent Fuga is a sustained four-part study, its Bachian essence filtered through a thoughtful, almost Busonian sensibility. The studies are more conventionally virtuosic, though inventive in the way the opening Andante spins its melodic line so effortlessly, while the final Lento accumulates intensity through abrupt but resourceful changes in texture and dynamics. Dmitri Smirnov's Fugues ingeniously exploit timbrel variety as a structural component in fugal writing, though with a depth of expression that makes the music much more than a technical exercise.
The remaining works are all by Henze, demonstrating the range, but also the less earnest side of his sensibilities. Étude Philharmonique draws on pastiche to construct a humorous yet distanced dialogue with its particular past. Serenade finds the composer at his most indulgent, down to its expressive double-stopping and lyrical flights of fancy. The Sonata is a triptych of character-types: the witty but ever so slightly tetchy 'Tirsi', the genial but increasingly quixotic 'Mopso' and the resolute, decisive 'Aristeo' playing out a discursive scenario; underpinned by a formal cohesion not always apparent in Henze's work.
A varied and stimulating collection then, recorded with due appreciation of Sheppard Skærved's incisive clarity - a trait equally apparent in his informative booklet note. Whether or not the violin is as limited an instrument as he reckons, future players will have reason to acknowledge his contribution towards widening its technical and expressive scope.
In general, stick to the major record labels if you want interpretations by great artists of the core repertoire; investigate the smaller labels if you’re interested in lesser-known works. There’s no clearer demonstration of this than the clutch of 20th-century music CDs that recently came my way for review. Listening to them confirmed a number of things in my mind: first, that there’s an extraordinary wealth of music out there to explore; second, that CDs give today’s composers and instrumentalists unprecedented opportunities for self-promotion; and last, that the term "20th-century music" incorporates such a variety of styles as to be virtually meaningless.
Simplest musical forces first: solo recital discs. In the refreshingly direct booklet note for his CD Etude Philharmonique (Metier MSV CD92028), Peter Sheppard Skærved writes what I’d always felt but never dared say: "By itself, the violin is an unsatisfactory instrument. It has a limited tessitura, and cannot really provide bass ‘underpinning’ to melodic material. . . . It is limited in terms of accuracy, speed and dynamics, and has no sustaining pedal. Without the company of other instruments, it exposes the audience to the player’s inadequacies, writ large." But of course a large number of contemporary composers have written important works for solo violin, among them Hans Werner Henze, whose Etude Philharmonique is an extended version of the cadenza from his Il Vitalino Raddopiato for violin and chamber orchestra. Skærved has more than risen to the challenge, and no inadequacies are exposed by his recording of this and other works by Henze, Naji Hakim, David Matthews, and Dmitri Smirnov. He demonstrates that, in the right hands, the solo violin can evoke a remarkable range of moods and colors.