The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Beguiling coupling of classical-meets-jazz and Baroque from a young violinist
Musicians: Iskandar Widjaja (violin) Anastassiya Dranchuk (piano)
Composer: Poulenc, Ravel, Biber, Bach

Berlin-born and -trained, and gold medal- winner at the first International Hindemith Competition, Iskandar Widjaja was taught by Susan Mann from the age of four using the Suzuki method and recently completed his studies at Berlin's University of the Arts with Uwe-MartinuHaiberg and Ilan Gronich. He emerges here as a true force of nature.

Not for him the classical mainstream, gently inflected by jazz and blues. Without in any way losing the structural focus and grip of these various pieces, he plays them with a Grappelli-like fantasy and freedom that is deeply beguiling. The reason it all works so well in the Poulenc and Ravel sonatas is due in no small part to Anastassiya Dranchuk's finely attuned accompaniments, which keep the music on the rails while remaining sensitive to Widjaja's profound elasticity of phrase and rhythm. The engineering is also exemplary, balancing warmth and detail to perfection.

Both the Ravel and Poulenc sonatas incorporate popular music idioms and respond intuitively to a more laid-back approach - Widjaja creates the sublime impression that they are part of an inspired stream-of-consciousness extemporisation - but one might not necessarily have expected the Baroque intricacies of Biber's Passacaglia and Bach's D minor Chaconne to sound so comfortable in this setting. Yet somehow Widjaja manages to indulge in a bracing temporal freedom without ever sounding mannered or stylistically anachronistic. One might not always want to hear these particular works played in this manner, but there is no doubting the hypnotic intensity of the results, nor Widjaja's engrossing imperativeness.