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CD Review

Songs Without Words

Works for Violin & Piano

Mela Tenenbaum, violin
Richard Kapp, piano
ESS.A.Y Recordings CD 1048 1996 DDD 62:38
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More than one recording of salon repertoire by rising young violinistic stars - and even one by a conductor who is several orders of magnitude dimmer than a star - has recently been announced with great fanfare. Of course, several years ago no rising star would have dared to attempt a debut in anything less substantial than a major concerto or heavyweight sonata. So there's probably some reason to rejoice at the recent trend - at least until you listen to the playing. Unfortunately, most of the thought in these albums has been done by the marketing department - and by the costuming department. The central question seems to be, "How much skin does the violinist need to expose on the cover to sell this disc?" If violinists exhibit any less personality in their playing, they'll soon have to appear nude. You can tell right away that Mela Tenenbaum means musical business - she doesn't show even her face on the album cover. You'll buy this one for the music or not at all.

And if you do buy this one, you'll be amply rewarded. Here is all the technique and refinement that marked the recitalists of yore, with every bit of the personality that they lavished on this repertoire. While Mela Tenenbaum has a bright, steely tone, and an incisive rhythmic sense, there's nothing mechanical or motoristic about these readings. Her tone is under control, and her left hand is alert to possibilities of expressive fingerings and the subtle portamenti that are so vital in this repertoire. Like Heifetz's hair-raising technical effects, Tenenbaum's sound well planned - but never artificial, or even calculated. Some of the less familiar numbers, such as Glière's Romance and Fibich's Poême, are happy discoveries, and the artist's stylistic flair is in large part responsible. And she isn't comfortable only with the European repertoire. She brings off White's spiritual as idiomatically as she does Dinicu's dances (Heifetz, incidentally, used to play another of White's pieces, Levee Dance. Unfortunately, he never played Dinicu's Pacsirta. Fortunatunately, Tenenbaum does.) Only in the simplest works, such as Kreisler's Liebesleid, where there's no opportunity for a technical tour de force, is there any sense of strain. And remember, these weren't necessarily Heifetz's best pieces, either.

This recital can be highly recommended, especially to those who believe the salon repertoire has no substance.

Copyright © 1996, Robert Maxham