Maya Bennardo, violin. Hannah Levinson, viola.
New Focus Recordings fcr233
Total Time: 48:04
Two former Oberlin Conservatory musicians come together to explore four very recent works for violin and viola from the over 25 pieces they have commissioned to date. The combination of ranges for these two instruments informs each of the works recorded here. For the most part, these are highly experimental works focusing on seemingly random sounds and effects. The harshness of the pieces may put off some who prefer some tonal reference in their modern music.
First up is Crescita Plastica (2015) by Ashkan Behzadi gives us an immediate introduction to the sheer virtuosity of Bennardo and Levinson. The piece feature some rather stark and intense musical gestures that zip through the upper registers of the instruments as often violent attacks insert themselves into the musical argument. Contemporary effects that explore double stopping, ponticello, and even microtones are also on display.
David Bird’s Bezier (2013) continues this expansion of effects and sounds possible on the instruments with a variety of percussive effects exploring other means of sound creation. The piece morphs into an exploration of trills and chirp-like sounds. Apocrypha (2017) is one of his more recent works and will close out the album. It adds electronic effects and sets up interactions between the acoustic sounds and the artificially-created ones. This is a more compelling piece and might better have serves as an introduction to this avant-garde music.
The penultimate piece is Clara Iannotta’s Luna (2011). Here the harmonics of the violin and viola are explored along with other techniques of glissandi and ponticello effects. These become integral gestures that help provide a formal structure to the music. A drone effect on a harmonica adds an additional other-worldly quality.
These are each quite intense modern pieces not for the faint of heart. The duo creates a real sense of intensity throughout the album. Intonation is crucial to pieces like this and here this is attained impeccably. The dramatic thrust of these pieces is also quite intriguing. The sound of the album captures both instruments well and images them with just enough distance to provide some ambient support and distancing between the two. Unfortunately, there is just a lot of resulting similarity here in a way that keeps any of these pieces from standing out fully on their own. The concepts of the music are solid but could use some contrasting program to help them stand out more as collected here. Fans of contemporary music in the New York area will certainly want to be on the lookout for andPlay’s local performances.