The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Midori (violin) Robert McDonald (piano)
Composer: Bach, Bartók

Midori’s Bach comes without those politically correct qualities that are a primary part of today’s period-instrument specialists. Her sound for the A minor Sonata is warmed by vibrato, every bar in the first three movements replete with expressive nuances. At times rhythm and tempo grow so relaxed that we are left with the feeling of free extemporisation. Dynamics are liberally applied as every note takes on its own colour and chords are spread and avoid any suggestion of that squeezed-out quality beloved of Baroque exponents.

There are moments when Midori savours the music at considerable leisure, but she judges to a nicety the balance and pulse of the melodic line against the plodding quaver (?) accompaniment in the Andante third movement. The technically demanding second and fourth movements find her playing bristling with virtuosity, and her spotless intonation and technical mastery deliver a stunningly brilliant final Allegro. In sum it may not have period credentials, but many will love its honesty of expression.  

It is interesting to observe Bartók’s relationship with Bach, though the opening of his First Sonata hurls us into the 20th century. Comparison with other performances in the catalogue shows Midori seeking out more of the work’s manifold beauties, and at times the shifting harmonies of the central Adagio take her close to French Impressionism. Robert McDonald reflects her affectionate approach and avoids the naked aggression we often hear in the work, and the duo enjoys the rustic vivacity of the finale.

There is a marked change in ambience between the two works, with the mechanics of the violin heard in the Bach moving to a softer-grained texture for the Bartók.