The Strad Issue: February 2015
Description: Committed playing makes this uncompromising music a compelling experience
Musicians: Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin) Reto Bieri (clarinet) Markus Hinterhäuser (piano)
Composer: Ustvolskaya

The reclusive Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya had not yet hit her notoriously raw, intense stride in the three early string-focused works on this astonishing disc, but this trio of performers – including violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja on exceptionally expressive form – could hardly be bettered as incisive, forceful interpreters of this unforgiving, often bleak music.

Even among the dogged repetitions of the 1952 Violin Sonata, Kopatchinskaja seems to look beyond the notes for an almost spiritual dimension, her superb control of timbre and phrasing giving every note meaning and direction – however stark Ustvolskaya’s musical gestures. The 1949 Trio makes a warmer, more lyrical interlude, with a folk-like charm to some of the composer’s melodies – the meandering clarinet line that opens the second movement, for example, played with touching subtlety by Reto Bieri.

There’s an almost Feldmanesque opacity to the uncompromising 1964 Duet for violin and piano, with fragmented sounds seemingly determined not to relate to each other, but Kopatchinskaja dispatches the raging, snarling violin line with fearsome commitment and a sense of steely energy, even in its whispered passages. Pianist Markus Hinterhäuser makes powerful contributions throughout, especially in the Duet’s thundering dissonances, and the crisp, warm recorded sound is exemplary. It’s far from an easy listen, but in this trio’s hands, Ustvolskaya’s ritualistic music becomes a truly cathartic experience.