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Monday, May 16, 2016

Miranda Cuckson, Blair McMillen, Bartok, Schittke, Lutoslawski

The talented and extraordinarily accomplished violinist Miranda Cuckson makes her ECM New Series debut with pianist Blair McMillen and a brace of three Slavic masterworks (ECM New Series 2446). The works here presented are without exaggeration three cornerstones of the modern repertoire for violin and piano: Bela Bartok's "Violin Sonata No. 2" (1922), Alfred Schnittke's "Violin Sonata No. 2 'Quasi una Sonata'" (1968) and Witold Lutoslawski's "Partita for Violin and Piano" (1984).

Each of these works combines in its very own way brilliant melodic-harmonic light, dramatic expressivity and a self-consciously wayward nod to tradition within a high modernist framework. They demand much of the violinist, much of the pianist, and in the process create when in the right hands a singular music forged in the foundry of strife, courage and boldness.

In the hands of Cuckson and McMillen they soar with impeccable precision, verve and elan. The violin parts demand much especially, and Ms. Cuckson triumphs, rising to each challenge with extraordinary dash and conviction. Clearly there is the sort of affinity between performer and composition that is temperamentally deep. Ms. Cuckson, in her words, revels in "the dark-hued tones and harmonies, the mordant wit, the detailed shaping of folk ornamentation."

Cuckson has made a name for herself as an unparalleled interpreter of the many shades of modernism with acclaimed performances of Nono, Korngold, Sessions, Carter, Xenakis, Shapey, Hersh, among others.

The insightful interpretations of the three works on this album will no doubt serve as present-day benchmarks of excellence for future performers to come. They are extraordinary, a triumph both for Cuckson and McMillen. Molto bravo!

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