A student musician must first learn to play the notes that the composer has written on the page. One who then seeks to take up the vocation of a professional must then learn how to bring the composer's notes to life, to construct an interpretation that will convince an audience that they are in the presence of true vitality. But for the very few, the supreme virtuosi, they manage to do all this while bringing seemingly supernatural resources to bear, i8n the crafting of every note, the twists of inflection and the minutiae of nuance by which we know those performers who have truly become one with and transcended their instrument. Isabelle Faust as such a performer and the instrument she has chosen to transcend is the violin.
A few years ago I purchased and very much came to enjoy the Naxos offering of Bartok's two sonatas for violin and piano in combination with the fascinating Contrasts written for clarinetist Benny Goodman, Bartók: Violin Sonatas 1 & 2, Contrasts. I wrote a substantial five star review for it. Recently a commentator on that review put a question to me that caused me to go back to the disc and give it a further hearing. I found myself even more captivated by the music than before, and found myself questioning the nature of the interpretation of the performers on that disc and wondering how other performers might approach it. After some soul searching I plumped for this pair of discs, and by golly what a revelation. I stand by everything I wrote in the prior review, but its emphasis was on the works rather than the performance. While I see now that the performers on the Naxos disc have worked hard to build a convincing and fluent interpretation of the two sonatas, there is simply no comparison when it comes to the raw musicianship of the aptly named Isabella Faust. Faust does not just play the notes, she twists them out of golden thread, chisels them out of shining marble or licks them into voluptuous being, each according to the instantaneous need of the intense musical vision she is embodying. Correspondingly I feel obligated to knock a star from that original review and provide a suitable addendum.
When seeking for alternative version of the sonatas what also piqued my interest with respect to this set is its inclusion of the fiendishly difficult Sonata for Solo Violin. This has got to be one of the most challenging works in the violinist's repertoire, not just in terms of the mechanics of playing which rivals the fiercest section of the Bach Partitas and Sonatas, but also with respect to the task of breathing genuine musical life into such a strangely organised constellation of bizarrely chromatic lines and jarring effects. Again, I wrote a review on the Naxos offering of this work, Bartók: Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz 117; 44 Duos for Two Violins which I entitled 'Spring on Pluto' as a way of capturing the deep alienness of the work. Once again I have been obliged to edit it and reduce my initial rating. In that instance the violinist involved was, in my opinion, seriously out of his depth with such a formidable work. Faust however makes it a thing of eerie beauty, the exquisite crafting of the individual notes carrying the listener through the alien strangeness of the score as if through a garden evolved on some distant exo-planet.
The Rhapsodies and the Transcriptions of Romanian Folk dances are at the opposite pole of Bartok's paradoxical genius being hugely emotionally affecting in a marvelously immediate way. Indeed I must confess to slightly damp eyes and a lump in my throat upon my first hearing of these renderings.
This set has reignited my affection for this strange and contradiction ridden composer, and I suspect I will be looking at alternate versions of a number of his extraordinary works.