She plays with intensity and maturity
Charlotte Gardner 2009-03-27
Hyperion Records receives a lot of unsolicited recordings from artists hoping for a record contract, and most don't make the grade. However, on rare occasions a gem appears, and there have been two in the past couple of years. The first was Suzanne Heinrich’s wonderful ''Mr Abel's Fine Airs'', a collection of airs for viola da gamba by Carl Friedrich Abel which took the 2008 Editor's Choice Gramophone Award. This is the other one. Tanja Becker-Bender's discography is miniscule, consisting just of a 1999 Dvorak recital on the Belgian label Pavane, and a 2005 disc of Albinoni concertos for Brilliant Classics. Her profile in the UK is small to non-existent. However, the ease and style with which she has pulled off Paganini's notoriously difficult and exposed caprices for unaccompanied violin might just change that.
Virtuosic ability is considered such a pre-requisite for violinists these days that it's no wonder that it's sometimes difficult to grasp how 'unplayable' certain works were considered to be when they were first written. Brahms’s Violin Concerto springs to mind. Paganini’s 24 Caprices Op.1 don't fall into this category, though. They were his only publication for solo violin, and stretch the violinist's technique to the utmost limit. They require notes to be played on the outer strings of the violin without sounding the ones between, and melodies to be sustained on one string whilst rapid harmonies or trills are played on another. There are trilled octaves, huge numbers of notes to be played on a single bow, and much of this is to be played at high speed. It's the violinist's version of that children's spinner and mat game, Twister. Becker-Bender’s performance is noteworthy for the nonchalance with which she glosses over these difficulties with enough mental effort left over to convincingly hold the musical thought and line. Listen to her smoothly tuneful octaves in No.15 in E minor. She plays with intensity and maturity, is brilliant of tone in the higher registers, and full-bodiedly gutsy lower down. The performance is impressive on every level and I, for one, am hoping to hear more from her.