CD Review: MYSTERY SONATAS (Augustin Hadelich)

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by Tony Frankel on November 22, 2018



As a reviewer, I have tried to create a critical and theoretical paradigm for this type of contemporary music that alienates or distracts more than enraptures, but I’ve become too bored and, well, alienated to care. And when the composition is seven repetitive, ceaseless, caterwauling, cat-screeching violin solos from David Lang, boredom becomes irritation. OK, “new” music has found its place alongside minimalism (a school of which I am growing equally tired) in the history of contemporary music, and seen as a key evolutionary particle therein, but even though I have been inspired by the experimentally interesting, atmospheric noise that is called music because it has been notated, rarely am I moved or touched. It took three listens to get through this new release, as I actually had to turn off mystery sonatas [sic] to alleviate my shpilkes (that’s Yiddish for a state of impatience, agitation, anxiety, or any combination thereof).

Implacable, inaccessible, and head-scratchingly impenetrable, this may be fun, challenging work for the player and fascinating to fellow musicians and their professors, but it doesn’t make sense that this should be recorded when its inspiration — Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s accompanied Rosenkranz Mystery Sonatas (1676) — is a far superior, timeless work that makes you feel like you’re praying to God, not getting clawed by the Devil. As with von Biber’s 15-movement work (one for each mystery of the Rosary, hence its other name, The Rosary Sonatas), Lang’s 44-minute work is split up thematically into joy, sorrow, and glory — but I sure can’t tell them apart. Don’t get me wrong, there are some passages of sparkling joy in “Before Glory,” plaintive meditations in “Sorrow,” dynamic spicattos in “After Joy,” profound anguish in “After Sorrow,” and ethereal otherworldliness in “Joy,” but anything beautiful or deep is so repetitious that I’m unsure what it all adds up to.

This was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for Hadelich, and recorded over two years ago in 2016. With earnest, unassailable tone — enriched by his 1723 “ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivari — the intensely sincere, über-expressive, hotly passionate Hadelich, whose intense breathing adds to the pieces’ non-liturgical drama, is a master. His playing is beyond reproach. I have seen the Juilliard-trained Hadelich on six occasions, and each time it is a revelation. Grounded yet ethereal, intense yet sunny, jocular yet serious, the 34-year-old normally transforms his showcases into enrapturing experiences. But here, it all adds up to one big mystery.

Augustin Hadelich
LANG: mystery sonatas
Cantaloupe Music
7 tracks | 44:21 | released October 19, 2018
available on Amazon and iTunes

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