Jennifer Koh & Shai Wosner to Release 'Signs, Games + Messages' on 10/29

Jennifer Koh & Shai Wosner to Release 'Signs, Games + Messages' on 10/29

Violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner present works that weave traditional Central European folk music with 20th-century modernism on a new recording titled Signs, Games + Messages to be released by Cedille Records on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. A digital release of the recording is now available on iTunes, Amazon.com and Cedille Records.

The recording comprises Leoš Janá?ek's Sonata for Violin and Piano, JW VII/7, Béla Bartók's First Sonata for Violin and Piano, Sz. 75 and thirteen of György Kurtág's potent miniatures including his Tre Pezzi (or Three Pieces) for Violin and Piano, Op. 14e, and ten pieces chosen from his multi-volume Játékok (or Games) and the series Signs, Games and Messages, which inspired the album's title.

Signs, Games + Messages is Ms. Koh's eighth Cedille album and Mr. Wosner's Cedille label debut. It's also the artists' first joint recording. Frequent recital partners, Ms. Koh and Mr. Wosner have been praised by The New York Times for their "impressive partnership" citing "Mr. Wosner's singing tone and expressive musicality complementing Ms. Koh's insightful, richly hued playing." They have performed works from the new CD for audiences in Philadelphia, PA; Richmond, VA; Carefree, AZ; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; and elsewhere.

As the artists explain in their preface to Andrea Lamoreaux's liner notes, they set out to create a program exploring "the tension between the visionary modernism of these masterpieces and the visceral pull of folk and cultural memory that is so essential to the language of these composers." The artists liken these elements to "intertwined strands of musical DNA." The results of this alchemy go beyond the mere borrowing of rhythmic patterns or quoting of folk tunes. Folkloric sources "can be heard behind even the most abstract passages," the artists state. As examples, they cite the "condensed, speech-like motifs" of the Janá?ek Sonata, the "quasi improvisatory freedom" of the Bartók Sonata, and the "allusions of Kurtág's enigmatic aphorisms."

Czech composer Janá?ek (1854-1928) imbued his Sonata for Violin and Piano, first performed in 1922, with some of the Russian flavor found in his 1920 opera Ká?a Kabanová. A work of dramatic intensity, its "key centers and modes - major or minor - shift constantly as Janá?ek adds in chromatic tones and sharp dissonances," Ms. Lamoroeux writes in the program notes.

Hungary's Kurtág (b. 1926) "creates a sound-world all his own," Ms. Lamoreaux writes. She quotes British music critic and BBC broadcaster Tom Service's comments about Kurtág's Játékok series in which he describes the pieces as "a compositional journey that has often involved reducing music to the level of the fragment . . . maximizing the effect and impact of every gesture." Among the offbeat Kurtág selections on the CD is the 30-second "Fundamentals" No. 2, from Játékok, Vol. 6, scored for piano and wordless voice part, with Ms. Koh vocalizing brief noises and sighs. The shortest work on the CD, the comical 19-second "A Hungarian Lesson for Foreigners," also from, Játékok, Vol. 6, is for solo piano, this time with both musicians loudly enunciating Hungarian words.

A Hungarian musical icon, Bartók (1881-1945) wrote his First Sonata for Violin and Piano for his compatriot, violinist Jelly D'Aranyi. Ms. Lamoreaux writes: "The folk element in Bartók's music stems from an intimate comprehension of his sources' rhythms and melodies that he internalized and blended with his own artistic voice." She notes that the whole tones and pentatonic scales of folk music can also be heard in the Sonata, "an ambitiously conceived expansion of tonality."