This programme is predicated on the twin abilities of Virpi Räisänen, who began her career as a violinist and then blossomed as a mezzo. It was stimulated by the knowledge that Holst’s Four Songs for Voice and Violin were intended for a single performer, singing and playing, but had never yet been recorded by a sole musician. The rest of the programme likewise consists of music written for Virpi Räisänen to sing and play at the same time. Well, not quite at the same time, since – given that it must be fairly difficult, in purely physical terms, simultaneously to hold a violin between your chin and shoulder and to sing comfortably– what we get most of the time is either an alternation of voice and violin, from phrase to phrase, or the vocal line accompanied by the simplest of violin textures, often a simple drone. Her Bach arrangement, for example, is simply a vocalise with sparing pizzicato accompaniment.
Mind you, the Holst that sparked off this project already acknowledges the inherent difficulty of the undertaking: these four songs likewise tend to restrict the violin to comment on the vocal line; where voice and violin sound together in genuine counterpoint, the violin writing is kept to a single line – Holst doesn’t expect his musician to embark on any chordal or polyphonic playing.
The modal cast of Holst’s melodies is followed by a Dalecarnian folksong, similarly modal, which is perhaps the most sheerly attractive item in this programme, in its combination of simplicity and honest beauty. It’s where other instruments come to the rescue – bassoon in Uljas Pulkkis’ witty Riddle, cello in Harri Österman’s atmospheric songs, harp in Jean van Vugt’s arrangement of John Jacob Niles ‘I wonder as I wander’ – that the music itself becomes more interesting in its own right than the feat of its performance.
A good part of the interest of this recording is indeed that it is done at all, and Virpi Räisänen does indeed do it well, but it is in the nature of the activity that its expressive range is not as wide as one would find with a genuine duo.
Virpi Räisänen (mezzo-soprano and violin), Nando Russo (percussion), Harri Österman (cello), Bram Van Sambeek (bassoon), Nick Scholten (harp)
Alba ABCD 453