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More violin on its own

02.05.10
Jennifer Koh
Indianapolis Star

By Jay Harvey

What does it take to get music lovers living in the 21st century to revel in “classical” music written in their own time? It’s hard to say, but Jennifer Koh’s “Rhapsodic Musings — 21st Century Works for Solo Violin (Cedille Records) deserves a pretty good shot at focusing widespread interest on new compositions for unaccompanied violin.

Despite the subtitle, the still-active Elliott Carter (at 101!) is represented by “Four Lauds,” 20th-century pieces in praise of various musical friends. The work takes the title from “Rhapsodic Musings,” a virtuoso “laud” to Robert Mann, longtime first violinist of the Juilliard Quartet. Carter’s language, long considered too recondite for the average listener, has acquired such flexibility and suavity over his long life that these four pieces ought to be irresistible; the othe honorees, by the way, are Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions and Goffredo Petrassi.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, who just yielded the music directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to the Venezuelan phenom Gustavo Dudamel, extends musical expressionism hauntingly with “Lachen Verlernt.” August Read Thomas’s “Pulsar” has a winning New Age vibe without being zappy, and the ingenious John Zorn notches a deft finale with the eight short pieces that make up “Goetia.”

Koh builds a cogent, spiffily recorded case for all this music, which bears repeated hearings.