Fanfare Review: Suites and Sweets

SUITES AND SWEETS Jessica Mathaes (vn); Rodney Waters (pn) CENTAUR 2993 (64:08)

COWELL Suite. STRAVINSKY Suite Italienne. KORNGOLD Suite: Much Ado about Nothing. FALLA Suite Populaire Espagnole (arr. Kochanski). RAVEL Pièce en forme de Habanera. MASSENET Thaïs: Meditation

Jessica Mathaes, the youngest concertmaster ever appointed to the Austin Symphony, and a graduate of the very fine music school at Rice University, has created a delightful program that plays off nicely against the title, “sweets” referring easily to the last two pieces on the disc, while the others are “suites” proper, all serious music done in a sweet vein if you will, but substantive and very rewarding to listen to.

Henry Cowell’s work is not one that will send anybody screaming in terror out of the room, but is instead a beautifully crafted piece of exquisite proportions that echo Bach-like sentiments in the midst of tone clusters that sound, well, tonal. The Stravinsky will sound very familiar to almost all of Fanfare’s Serious Collectors as selections from his most popular neoclassical ballet Pulcinella. Pergolesi, an almost forgotten composer who nonetheless fascinated Stravinsky, wrote music of direct appeal that inspired Stravinsky to write his ballet, a piece far better than Pergolesi ever deserved. Violinist Samuel Dushkin collaborated with the composer to create this suite.

I have always had a secret love of the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold ever since I first heard the Leinsdorf recording of Die tote Stadt back in the 1970s. Oh, I knew about his film scores all right, but the opera was revelatory to me, still awaiting a recording (and video) to equal that old RCA. Much Ado about Nothing is an orchestral work (incidental music) created at the same time as the opera, and the composer decided to try and save it (its premiere was derailed because of the Great War), and allows any violinist to show off her emotional side.

The Falla work has been scored for several instruments, a very popular piece that gets recycled ad infinitum. Likewise the Ravel, transcribed and recorded for almost every instrument imaginable. Mentioning the Massenet is almost superfluous at this point—everyone knows it, and most often loves it, though in the wrong hands it can become cloying—not these hands.

In fact, of all the debut violin albums I have come across recently—and they come fast and furious—Mathaes is one of the few that has actually put thought into the program and is able to deliver the many varied styles required by this miscellany with an affluent ease and perspicacious affection that must surely be the envy of lesser artists on sometimes more fabled record labels. Her tone is alternating tender and muscular as needed, with an affinity for manner appropriate to each work that belies her young years. This breezy album will provide much pleasure from the tried and true that so often becomes tired and blue—use it wake up those dormant ears. - Steven E. Ritter 

Steven Ritter