Carolin Widmann's Another Prayer : 5pm Sunday 18 April 2021
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The Forberg-Schneider Foundation funded the video production costs of Carolin Widmann’s Another Prayer.
Germany’s violin virtuoso, Carolin Widmann, performs in an arresting concert entitled ‘Another Prayer’, with the expressive musician sharing a mix of works from the past with more recent solo pieces including works by Hildegard von Bingen, George Benjamin, Salvatore Sciarrino, J.S. Bach, Telemann and Julian Anderson’s ‘Another Prayer’.
“And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,” writes Isaiah, in one of his best known, least observed prophecies. It did happen, though, in Central Asia over a thousand years ago, when someone picked up a warrior’s bow and drew it across the taut strings of something like a lute. Out of violence was born the ancestral violin. Or out of violence a voice.
As Carolin Widmann enters the sacred space of a small church, that voice is singing a chant by Hildegard of Bingen, who might not have been aware of the musical revolution off to the east, but who would certainly have appreciated a line that can extend without pause and yet convey the muscular tension, as in the throat, of a rise in pitch.
The opening of the work that gives this filmed performance its title – Another Prayer, which Julian Anderson wrote for Carolin Widmann in 2012 – then sounds like an answer to Hildegard from another age. Though this ten-minute piece is altogether busier, with abundant varieties of accent, pace, colour and figure, some things remain: moments of rotation through a small group of notes, moments of ascent. Adjusted intonations, notably pitching the B below middle C a quarter-tone flat, give the music a particular harmonic flavour, which, together with the sometimes rough or brusque sounds, might suggest we are hearing a folk fiddler from some region of eastern Europe. The composer also asks us to reconsider prayer, “as something urgent, potentially forceful and often lively”.
A different kind of praying again might seem to be embodied in the first movement, marked “Dolce”, from the seventh of twelve fantasias for unaccompanied violin Telemann wrote in 1735. If the music is generally reflective, tension can suddenly quicken, as it does when the second phrase lifts itself through a minor ninth.
Sometimes we seem to catch in the musician’s face a shadow of her playing, and her light smile through the first of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Six Capriccios allows us to understand the piece as comic: the jabbering, perhaps, of a child’s prayer, asking for treat upon treat. But the second capriccio, the slow one of the set, with its double-stopped, trilling harmonics made of thin air, might already be sounding from its celestial destination.
From Bach’s D minor partita we also hear two movements – not the grave Chaconne but the equally grave Sarabande and concluding Gigue.
Then there are three short pieces George Benjamin wrote for friends in 2001-2. The first, a lullaby, offers, in the composer’s words, “slow and simple melody, accompanied by open strings, which transforms into ribbons of harmonies at its end”. Benjamin describes the second piece, dedicated to his longtime publisher Sally Cavender, as “a highly energetic fast movement, whose triadic harmonies and accentuated rhythms become ever more insistent”. In the third “a plucked chordal introduction leads to a gentle arco song, supported by lilting left-hand pizzicati”. Here the recipient was Klaus Lauer, who ran music days at his grand hotel in the spa town of Badenweiler, in the south-west corner of Germany.
Hildegard, again, takes us out. (Paul Griffiths, 2021)
Louth Contemporary Music Society’s We Sing for the Future is funded by the Arts Council, financially supported by Create Louth , the Forberg-Schneider Foundation and the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.