Rachel Kolly, violin

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- 28 May 2010, "The Times", Geoff Brown "...my jaw dropped at the passionate skill of her playing."


Rachel Kolly d’Alba: Passion Ysaye
What strikes you about this amazing CD is Rachel Kolly d’Alba’s continuing youthful exuberance and her almost coltish powers.

She started her violin lessons at the age of 5; her first public solo performance followed seven years later. Now this Swiss violinist, Rachel Kolly d’Alba, is skirting 30, though what strikes you about this amazing CD is her continuing youthful exuberance. There’s an almost coltish power about the way she kicks and flies through the music — and it’s music that no child should touch. For she’s playing those fiendishly taxing solo sonatas by the Belgian composer and distinguished fiddler Eugène Ysaye, a set of six written in the 1920s, each dedicated to a violin colleague, pupil or friend.

The music itself is startling enough: a crazy quilt of quotations, question marks, adventurous harmonies and ghostly memories. The sprightly figurations of Bach’s solo violin sonatas flicker through; so, in the second sonata, does the doom-laden Dies Irae chant. The fifth sonata whisks us to the countryside, the sixth to Spain. The fourth mimics Fritz Kreisler’s classical pastiches; the first salutes the Bach playing of another great soloist, Joseph Szigeti. The third, the shortest and best-known, is a rhapsody dedicated to the great Romanian George Enescu.

And each requires what seems like 15 fingers. Full chords need to be summoned, the widest arpeggios pinned down, notes fiendishly plucked or sweetly caressed, all often at lightning speed. D’Alba’s instrument — I almost wrote weapon — is a spectacular 1727 Stradivarius, notably bright in the high notes, pleasingly earthy down below. The instrument’s impact is enhanced by the astonishingly full recording of this independently-produced CD. It’s as if you’re inside the violin, feeling every finger press, each glide, pluck or scrape. I wouldn’t call the experience subtle, or one indeed for continuous listening; but it is, in short bursts, terribly exciting.

So is d’Alba’s playing. There’s little point playing Ysaye like a punctilious police officer or an unctuous mortician. You need to dazzle, walk on the wild side. Thomas Zehetmair’s ECM recording several years ago famously seethed with danger. D’Alba’s behaviour is less rough, but she’s always febrile and gung-ho, and time and again my jaw dropped at the passionate skill of her playing. And if the delicate pianissimo touch is lacking, well, maybe d’Alba will get round to that when she grows up; when she’s 65.

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