This immensely rewarding disc includes two thrilling discoveries, plus one of the masterpieces of 20th-century music. Frank Martin’s Passacaille is one of a number of works (by Schmidt, Hindemith and so on) which, like Britten’s quartets, take the Purcell–Bach passacaglia form and lend it a dazzling modern demeanour. This work, which began life as solo organ piece, is lent real force by the magnificent string playing of this orchestra from the German Saarland, as well as a searing violin solo midway. Christoph Poppen is himself a noted violin soloist (as well as one of Muriel Cantoreggi’s former teachers) and here the upper string sound is uplifted and transformed by having such an assured string player in charge.
Cantoreggi herself is a Long/Thibaud Competition prizewinner and former leader of the European Union Youth Orchestra with a particular enthusiasm for contemporary and 20th-century repertoire. Her passion, mastery and affectionate advocacy greatly enhance these entrancing performances.
Both the Polyptique (1973) – a richly textured, painterly set of six musical panels for solo violin and strings written for Yehudi Menuhin – and the Maria-Triptychon (1967–8) for a solo soprano and violin with orchestra (composed for Wolfgang Schneiderhan and his wife Irmgard Seefried), are very late works by Martin (1890–1974). The music’s maturity, emotion and gentle virtuosity shine through at every turn.
Cantoreggi brings to the lithe solo violin line a spiritual depth and intensity that recalls Messiaen, while the expressive vocal line in the Marian triptych, with shades of Hindemith’s cycle Das Marienleben, could scarcely be improved upon. ECM’s recorded sound is warm and generous but also subtly balanced, making these gorgeous performances easily recommendable.