An Italian-American recital. Michelle Makarski, American violinist of Italian (and Polish) descent, focuses upon modern Italian music through the prism of a sonata by Giuseppe Tartini - letting us view ways in which some of the most independent spirits in Italian contemporary composition can be related to that "spiritual inheritor of the intellectual musical tradition of the Florentine Camerata." American composer Stephen Hartke, in his liner notes, writes that "Dallapiccola, Petrassi and Berio are all 20th century avatars of this same tradition." Elliott Carter and George Rochberg, mean-while, were friends and musical associates of these architects of new music in Italy, and also spent formative time there, "absorbing the purity and elegance of its art and culture." The composition that concludes this program, the anonymous 14th century "Lamento di Tris-tano", is one of the earliest surviving examples of Italian instrumental music, "an unassuming yet highly moving forerunner of the whole corpus of Italian music."
In brief, this is a carefully structured program played with great sensitivity by Michelle Makarski, revealing a multiplicity of musical interconnections. Makarski's 1997 ECM solo debut "Caoine" was widely praised as a 'composed' recital whose component parts were in fine balance. On that recording, she played 11 etudes from George Rochberg's 51-part "Caprice Variations" cycle; on the present disc she adds another four. The cycle is a work unique in the history of contemporary music for solo violin, an anthology of modern playing techniques and a distillation of compositional ideas.
Rochberg, who began his compositional life as an ardent admirer of Schoenberg and Webern, was confirmed in the serial path by his association with Luigi Dallapiccola. Rochberg met the Italian composer in Rome in 1950 while on a Fullbright scholarship and later played him his first 12-tone works. In the 1960s, however, he turned away from the single-minded pursuit of 'originality' at all costs. As he said: "The idea of renewal, the rediscovery of music, began to haunt me. I came to realize that the music of the 'old masters' was a living presence, that its spiritual values had not been displaced or destroyed by the new music. The shock wave of this enlargement of vision was to alter my whole attitude toward what was musically possible today." He rejected the 20th century aesthetic viewpoint in which the artist's ego and his per-sonal style are supreme values and also the "received idea that it is necessary to divorce one-self from the past, to eschew the taint of association with those great masters who not only preceded us, but (let it not be forgotten) created the art of music itself." Rochberg's standpoint is quite significant for this recital of Makarski's, which considers the past and the present of music history as an unbroken continuum, with no rupture separating the "old" and the "new". Rochberg has also said, "I want to feel the intensity of experience where music is concerned. I must feel I'm in the presence of a passionate voice, a passionate nature. I want a strong, clear art." Every composition in the present recital reveals this clarity and commitment.
Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) is usually remembered as the first Italian composer to dedi-cate himself to Schoenbergian 12-tone principles, yet he always applied them in a highly personal way, and "atonality" seldom seemed to cramp the lyric impulse that is never far from the surface of his music. A passion for Debussy and Busoni, on the one hand, and Monteverdi and Gesualdo on the other, predated Dallapiccola's wholehearted immersion in the strictures of the Second Viennese School, and may have tempered (in a positive sense) his radicalism. The "Due Studi" for violin and pianoforte are from 1946-47, years when the influential Italian music critic Fedele D'Amico wrote of the "soft and starry clime" of Dallapiccola's textures. Dallapiccola also exerted an influence upon Berio who described him, in the 1950s as "a point of reference that was not just musical, but also spiritual, moral and cultural." Berio and Dallapiccola (and Rochberg) spent time together at Tanglewood, and Berio's "Due Pezzi" was composed in part under Dallapiccola's tutelage.
At the time of this recording, in May 1999, Elliott Carter and Goffredo Petrassi seemed set to break all records for sustained creative compositional endeavor. Petrassi was then two months away from his 95th birthday and Carter was halfway through his 91st year. Carter wrote his "Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi" 15 years earlier, to celebrate the Italian mas-ter's 80th birthday, and the work was first performed in June 1984, at the Festival de Pontino in Sermoneta.
As Hartke notes, the "Riconoscenza" is an outstanding example in miniature of "Carter's uniquely personal manipulation of musico-dramatic space. The three main elements in the piece are distinguished one from the other by texture, speed and intervallic content, intercut in the manner of cinematic montage." This connects to Carter's own observation on Petrassi's compositions: "He has tried to get a sense of an unpredictable spontaneity in his music, and sometimes it becomes very fragmented, as though he wrote little bits of music which, when assembled, contrast surprisingly with each other. I love his music."
Petrassi's "Elogio per un'ombra" was written in 1971 and dedicated to composer, writer, pianist, teacher and conductor Alfredo Casella, a controversial figure in 20th century Italian music, due to his enthusiastic espousal of fascist principles from the early 30s until his death in 1947. (Cassella's opera "Il Deserto Tentato" was written in praise of Mussolini's Ethiopian campaign). According to writer John G. Waterhouse, "Casella's fascism was of the 'innocent' kind, reflecting nothing worse than lack of political understanding and gullibility in the face of propaganda". Be that as it may, he was viewed with ambivalence by the generation of composers who followed him and Petrassi's tribute, in recognition of Cassella's proselytizing for new music, was possible only "25 years later". Hartke: "Perhaps Petrassi's choice of the enigmatic word 'ombra' is his characterization of this flawed but beloved figure...Petrassi's piece is similarly shadowy and mercurial. The musical argument unfolds in an non-rhetorical, almost dream-like fashion. Petrassi's use of a stunning array of violinist timbres is nothing short of kaleidoscopic. But for all that, our 'ombra' remains deliberately an enigma, and the memory of an enigma at that."
Michelle Makarski's astonishing interpretation of the Petrassi piece wrings the maximum of expression from every compositional nuance. Indeed her performance throughout this recital most convincingly shows why she has been frequently singled out by the press as one of the outstanding violinists of our time.
In the Berio and Dallapiccola compositions, Makarski is joined by Austrian pianist Thomas Larcher, an ECM recording artist in his own right, whose New Series album juxtaposing piano pieces by Schoenberg and Schubert also received high critical acclaim.
Violinist Michelle Makarski enjoys an international reputation performing a repertoire that ranges from early music to newly commissioned works and includes Baroque ornamentation as well as jazz improvisation.
A native of northern Michigan, she received her early training from her father and continued her studies with Ara Zerounian, Mischa Mischakoff and Paul Makanowitzky. Ms. Makarski was winner of the Alberto Curci Competition in Naples and was awarded the Beethoven Sonata Prize at the Carl Flesch Competition in London. She was first prize winner at the Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition, an event which brought her to international attention.
As a concerto soloist she has appeared with numerous orchestras including the American Symphony and American Composers Orchestras, both at Carnegie Hall, the Atlanta Symphony, the Scarlatti Orchestra of the RAI in Italy and the Royal Philharmonic at the Barbican Arts Centre in London. Her solo recitals have included performances at Carnegie Hall, Weill Hall, Orchestra Hall in Detroit and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and she has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, California Chamber Virtuosi and Musicians from Marlboro.
Her appearance with Keith Jarrett on the Lincoln Center Great Performers series led her to work with ECM Records which has produced Bridge of Light (with Jarrett) and Caoine, a collection of works for solo violin which won high international acclaim. Makarski's interests extend also to improvisation, and she appears, alongside John Surman and Dino Saluzzi, as a soloist on Tomasz Stanko's album "From The Green Hill", a recording that has won several international awards including the German Critics Prize as Jazz Album of the Year 1999-2000. For New World Records she has recorded a program of American works with Brent McMunn as well as the Violin Concerto of Stephen Hartke, dedicated to her and commissioned with a grant from the Koussevitzky Foundation.
Ms. Makarski has appeared internationally on radio and television and has been featured on several programs, including NBC's Real Life with Jane Pauley and Music Hotel, a European documentary on the New Series Musiktage at the Hotel Römerbad in Germany. She was listed in BBC Music Magazine's "Who's Who in Music" as one of the most important contemporary violinists.
Thomas Larcher studied piano with Heinz Medjimorec and Elisabeth Leonskaja and composition with Eric Urbanner in Vienna. He has appeared as a soloist with the Cham-ber Orchestra of Europe, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, the RSCO Vienna, the National Symphony Orchestra Dublin and has worked with conductors including Claudio Abbado, Michael Boder, Michael Gielen and Heinz Holliger. Chamber music part-ners include, in addition to Michelle Makarski, Christian Altenburger, Thomas Zehetmaier and Thomas Demenga, Elmar Schmid, David Geringas, the Carmina Quartet, the Prazak Quartet, Christine Whittlesey and many others.
Larcher, who also has a growing reputation as a composer, is artistic director of the festival "Klangspuren" in Schwaz/Tyrol, Austria. His ECM New Series appearances include the aforementioned Schoenberg/Schubert "Klavierstücke", and contributions to Heinz Holliger's "Lieder ohne Worte". He is also featured on recordings of Isang Yun's chamber music, scheduled for ECM release in 2001.
CD package includes 28 page three-language booklets with liner notes by "Caoine" composer Stephen Hartke