Michael Barenboim, son of Daniel, journeys from Johann Sebastian Bach to Pierre Boulez via Béla Bartók, not in chronological terms, but as a full-circle recital, Boulez to Boulez. His Anthèmes I (1992) is a dazzling jeu d’esprit played brilliantly that might be heard as having Bartókian ingredients, and that before his Solo Sonata is heard in this context. Bartók’s expansive four-movement Sonata (1944, for Yehudi Menuhin) finds Barenboim in gutsy and confident form for the arresting opening gesture and he goes on to use his virtuosic technique to clarify this complex music with shape and intensity, continued into the remaining movements, whether severe, touchingly expressive or, finally, racy and folksy (the last movement is without quartertones, as per Menuhin’s edition).
From there a look-back a couple of centuries to J. S. Bach, although his is timeless music of course (this Sonata one of the group of such works and Partitas, BWV1001-1006), generously expressed by Barenboim, the second-movement ‘Fugue’ especially poised and also striding purposefully, the succeeding Largo meltingly sensitive. Following an especially animated and dynamic Finale then it’s a return to Boulez (Barenboim worked with and learnt from him, the presentation includes three photos of them together) for Anthèmes II (1997), which requires IRCAM’s galaxy of electronics, the work devised there. It’s a fascinating and beguiling twenty-minute creation of timbral interchange, spatial effects and ear-bending transformations, a tour de force.
The recordings that were made in Berlin are prone to making the instrument sound edgy and piercing, but can be tamed, whereas the IRCAM reproduction is that bit smoother if no-less vivid. Barenboim writes a booklet note aptly entitled “The Theatre of the Violin”.