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April 12 , 2011

Reviews of the Week

“Lysøen: Homage à Ole Bull”, the brand-new album by Norwegian violinist and Hardanger fiddler Nils Økland and countryman Sigbjørn Apeland (piano, harmonium) is off to a flying start with a major review in Germany’s leading weekly Die Zeit, where writer Volker Hagedorn praises the duo’s sensitive tribute to Norway’s iconic violinist-composer, Ole Bull (1810-1880). Økland and Apeland are the first musicians to have recorded at Bull’s home on the island of Lysøen. Nils uses, amongst other instruments, Bull’s old Guarneri; Sigbjørn employs, among other keyboards, the harmonium once played by Bull’s young American wife, as the old violinist lay dying in the music room of his villa. “Once, someone was happy here. Anyone who hears these pieces understands that there can be no happiness untouched by melancholy. As Franz Liszt said about Bull, ‘His playing moved me. It’s a long time since that last happened.’”

In the Frankfurter Allgemine Zeitung, Alessandro Topa reviews “Pastorale”, a year-old album by Stefano Battgalia and Michele Rabbia - a gesture very much in line with ECM’s view that the music is timeless: “Battaglia sounds out the waves of chords and ornaments, while Rabbia peels back layers of pain with metallic slide and feedback sounds. And it very soon becomes clear that the opening piece ‘Antifona Libera’ is magical also for Battaglia’s mastery of phrasal micro-shifts; the smallest hesitation can reveal much and guide us to the tenderness of this prayer. (…) With his minimalistically reduced aesthetics of performative catharsis, Battaglia proves to be a composer who knows how to make masterly use of the rich technical possibilities acquired during his young years as a concert pianist.”

Also in the FAZ, Martin Wilkeling is absorbed in the range of sonic possibilities available in Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius’s album of duets for violin and viola, “Manto and Madrigals”. “What they play spans the beauty of the unknown and the vastness of time and space. Yet these are intimate narrations, in which the hierarchical relationship of familiar and the unfamiliar soon vanishes.” Thus a well-known work like Martinu’s “Three Madrigals” is counterbalanced by, for instance, a piece by Schönberg’s only Greek student, Nikos Skalkottas: “Thanks to Zehetmair and Killius both pieces sparkle in spiritual strength and subtle musicality.”

Robert Levin’s account of the piano music of Henri Dutilleux has been widely acclaimed over the last several months. Now the Neue Zürcher Zeitung joins the chorus of praise: “Levin’s approach impresses through its clarity and transparency, and every tiny musical gesture can be discerned. He dissects the sound: in a manner both differentiated and sensual.”

To be continued…