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Patricia Kopatchinskaja shows her astonishing artistry on 'Take Two' and 'Chiaroscuro'

Patricia Kopatchinskaja shows her astonishing artistry on 'Take Two' and 'Chiaroscuro'
Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (Daniel Vass / ECM Records)

In 2008, a prize-winning young violinist from Moldova made a recording of violin sonatas with the unconventional Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say. It begins with the most strikingly original nontrivial performance of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata on disc. Her tone is wiry and electric. She seems to stretch notes, but in fact doesn't. She seems to be composing as she plays, true to both the letter of the score and Beethoven's audacious spirit.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja has been called the wild child of the violin, which is true but also a little demeaning because there is astonishing artistry to complement her creativity. She plays most of the time barefoot onstage. Her body and her instrument and the music she makes all seem one. She is ever thrilling alive to the moment.

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Kopatchinskaja has made several more alarmingly innovative recordings of a remarkably broad range of standard and nonstandard repertory over the last seven years, including rapturously praised performances of concertos by Bartók, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Ligeti. Check out her website. Her repertory leaves few gaps. She has a long list of enticing texts about composers. She quotes only her bad reviews, because she thinks them the most interesting.

Sorry, Patricia, I can't be of much help to you there.

Yet Kopatchinskaja is only sort of an international star. She has had minimal exposure in the U.S., despite a recent affiliation with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. She has not, for any good reason I know of, made it our way yet. Nor has her string quartet, quartet-lab, as breathtakingly fresh an ensemble as any I've heard lately, come to the States or made recordings.

But Kopatchinskaja does have two new recordings. Let them get the word out, and in a big way.

"Take Two" — a mixed recital on the small French label Alpha Classics — I don't have to think twice about making my recording of the year. I say this without being quite sure what it is she's up to.

Perhaps this should be the test. I happened to be listening to a hi-res download (it's exceptionally well recorded, with lifelike immediacy) of the recital in my car the other day and found myself missing familiar exits on the freeway, winding up in awful traffic jams I normally know how to skirt and landing in parts of town far from where I meant to be. I finally had to turn the damn thing off and listen to the soothing voices of NPR reading bad news so I could concentrate and find my way back to The Times.

"Take Two" covers a full millennium of music. Some of it will be familiar to most listeners. Some of it, not at all. And all 24 tracks in Kopatchinskaja's hands made a startling surprise. She has eight partners here in her musical crimes playing ancient treble viol, turntables, guitar, harpsichord, toy piano, clarinet, ocarina and darbuka (an African drum). One number follows another in seemingly incoherent fashion. First an 11th century trope for violin and viol, then some untamed electronics by Venezuelan avant-gardist Jorge Sanchez-Chiong, then an excerpt from John Cage's gentle Six Melodies for Violin and Piano.

Let's take the Cage for a minute. Kopatchinskaja replaces the piano with harpsichord. She plays this tidy and serene Satie-like miniature aggressively, messily distorting tone and time, the heavily amplified harpsichord adding a palate of unexpected new sound effects.

Cage is one of the two patron saints of Kopatchinskaja's "Take Two" enterprise (Alice, she of Wonderland, is the other). Cage is quoted throughout the violinist's inventively loopy liner notes. "Consider everything an experiment," is one example. Heaven only knows what the composer would have made of this performance, but I would like to think he would have delighted realizing he asked for it.

There's lots more — Milhaud, De Falla, Machaut, Martinu. A performance of a sonata by Biber, the Baroque weirdo, must be heard to be believed. There are instances of childish glee and others sincere spirituality. The final track is Bach's beloved D-Minor Chaconne, accompanied by Anthony Romaniuk improvising on the harpsichord, and made to seem simultaneously new and timeless.

The second recording, radically different from "Take Two," is a guest appearance by Kopatchinskaja on a program of two works for violin and chamber orchestra Georgian composer Giya Kancheli wrote for Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica. One of the pieces, "Twilight," is for two violins, and Kopatchinskaja joins Kremer in music of sad yet ethereal beauty that fills the room with radiance. The other score, "Chiaroscuro," with Kremer alone, has fits of violence exploding out of an otherwise luminous atmosphere. It is music distinctly and honestly for and of our time, wondrously played and recorded by ECM.

Both "Take Two" and "Chiaroscuro" are available as physical discs and on most of the usual download and streaming sites. For hi-res files, "Take Two" can be found at www.classicsonlinehd.com, and "Chiaroscuro" at www.hdtracks.com.

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