CD featuring violinist Irina Muresanu as eclectic as it gets
In the space of less than two years, the recording company Sono Luminus (distributed by Naxos) has proven to be the go-to label if you’re looking to break out of a listening rut. One of their latest releases features a violinist few are familiar with (but should be soon), in repertoire ranging from pillars such as the Chaconne of Bach’s Partita in D Minor to world premieres from India and the Chickasaw Nation.
The purveyor of this stimulating potpourri is Romanian violinist Irina Muresanu (pictured above on the CD cover). She relates that when working on Mark O’Connor’s “Cricket Dance,” the time it was taking to learn the short work made her realize that the technique required generally lay outside the demands of the classical repertoire. What else, she wondered, is out there that might fall into this category? The result of her search culminated in the CD “Four Strings Around the World.”
The disc is divided into two parts, “Music from Western and Eastern Europe” and “Music from the Middle East and Asia, South and North America.” Muresanu begins the journey in her native Romania, with “Airs in Romanian Folk Style,” an engaging and brief four movements from George Enescu. We then head to Ireland with the celebratory “Tar Eisan Caoineadh” of David Flynn. The title translates “After the Keening,” the mournful portion of an Irish wake. The life-affirming section follows, and Flynn paid homage to a quartet of great Irish fiddlers by using a technique each was known for as the basis for a new section in the eight minute work. This is a good place to mention that one’s enjoyment of the more obscure works is greatly enhanced by the detailed and generous program booklet.
Muresanu closes the European portion of the selections with some obvious selections: the “Caprice No. 24” of Paganini and the aforementioned “Chaconne” by Bach sandwich Fritz Kreisler’s “Recitativo and Scherzo.” While one would have to split hairs to criticize Muresanu’s traversals of these iconic works, I did feel after hearing the disc twice that I was drawn back much more strongly by the off the beaten path pieces.
Thus the second half of the disc grabs one’s attention at once with “Calligraphy No. 5” of Reza Vali. The derivation of the material is rooted in traditional Persian music, in this case based on a scale that includes a quarter-tone. Next we are treated to a world premiere recording of “Vak” for violin and electronic drone by Shirish Korde. Its three brief movments are based on a Raga that uncharacteristically omits the fifth degree of the scale. Designated as Raga Lilit, it is usually associated with daybreak (and by the way, the drone is the only accompaniment of Muresanu on the CD). The dreamy improvisatory sound of the opening section leads to a middle movement of meterless, but pulsed, music, and the finale grows in unabated speed and excitement.
Bright Sheng’s “The Stream Flows” (Part II only) brings us to China, before we take a giant leap to South America, courtesy of “Tango Etude No. 3” of Piazzolla. Lest one fears that the territory may become too familiar, Murasenu presents a work commissioned for this project, “Oshta” (“Four”) by Jerod Impichchaachaaha Tate. The composer has written, “Oshta is the Chickasaw word for the number ‘four’…The work is closely based upon a Choctaw church hymn that was composed in the 1800s.” In addition to more fascinating detail from the composer in the notes, Muresanu adds “At the premiere of the piece, I performed Oshta in the dark, in order to allow the listeners to focus only on its haunting sounds.”
The disc closes with O’Connor’s “The Cricket Dance” the very short—and very daunting—work that triggered the whole project. Muresanu’s bio reveals that she is anything but unknown; indeed she enjoys a major reputation in many cities in the U.S. and abroad. But her new CD should enhance her reputation and win many new fans…and some of us will keep a close eye on what the Sono Luminus label releases next.