New Classical Tracks: A Little Evening Music

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
March 1, 2011
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St. Paul, Minn. — In 2006 her recording of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" was one of the most downloaded classical recordings on iTunes. That's when Dutch violinist Janine Jansen was crowned "Queen of the Downloads." "It's definitely a good way to reach a broader audience," Jansen agrees. "In some ways, the classical music and the power of the music is the thing that needs to get the audience interested. And I am just the person who is trying to do that through my music and my expression." Jansen reaches out to her audience through live performances and through her five orchestral recordings. She's just released her first recital recording, a collection of French pieces with pianist Itamar Golan.

The recording, titled "Beau Soir," takes us into a moonlit night, from dusk to dreams, to daylight. Jansen says she's spent a lot of time with this repertoire and was finally ready to record it, "I feel very closely connected to it. I feel very comfortable with this musical language, let's say." Binding one idea to the next, creating connections is a common aspect of French culture. It's also an important element of this recording, which features three original pieces by Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon, whose violin concerto Janine premiered in Paris in 2008.

The recording opens with Debussy's Violin Sonata, a work that shifts through various emotions, according to Jansen, "It can go from sweet to -- completely the opposite. And he wrote it of course in a time when he wasn't feeling well at all. He was even taking morphine, I think, and some people say maybe because of [thoughts of ]death it became . . . not a dark piece but very capricious and moody."

Ravel's Violin Sonata in G major is the other major work on this recording. It was premiered by Ravel's lifelong friend George Enescu in the late 1920's. In the middle jazz-inspired movement, titled "Blues," we hear the violin imitating a saxophone and crooner as the piano plays a syncopated accompaniment.

Next comes a piece by Richard Dubugnon, which he wrote in Ravel's home near Paris. which is like a doll house full of strange toys, beautiful furniture and wallpaper that Ravel designed himself. Jansen explains how that atmosphere provided additional inspiration to "Retour a Montfort-l'Amaury," "He went to the house to compose this specially, on the piano where Ravel composed the Blues for the sonata. There's the link to Ravel, but also very much to the sonata. And he really has a good feel for that."

Another piece composed by Dubugnon also makes some interesting connections.

It is called "La Minute exquise" ("The Exquisite Minute")-alluding to a famous poem, "The Exquisite Hour." But it has a direct connection to one of Debussy's most popular works, which also appears on this new recording. "It's after a poem which is called 'L'heure exquise '" Jansen clarifies. "So, it's the hour and this piece is the minute, so it's like the short version. It's a poem about the moon. So again there we have the connection to Claire de Lune - Debussy's Claire de Lune - so there's a bridge from him going to that."

Looking back, Jansen now feels that Debussy's "Claire de Lune" was actually the most difficult piece to record, "I thought I couldn't get to what I wanted it to sound like. But actually now that I listen to it, I really enjoy the fragility of it, the vulnerability. That's also how I was feeling at the moment of recording that. And I think that now that I listen back after some distance from it, I do really enjoy that."

One of my favorites on this new collection of French pieces is Lili Boulanger's "Nocturne." Boulanger was a composer and one of the most influential music teachers of the 20th century. Jansen and Itamar Golan learned this magical piece special for this recording, "Ach, it's a great piece. I must admit, I came across the piece right before the recording. We had never played it before- I had not heard it before and Itamar also didn't know it. And I just found the music and I brought it to the recording and I just said, I think it is so beautiful, let's play it.

"It was clear after we played it one time - this is so special, it needs to be there."

Perhaps the best way to enjoy "Beau Soir," with Janine Jansen and Itamar Golan may be in the same setting in which this recording was created, "We recorded the short pieces like 'Beau Soir' late at night, and we were in a studio in Berlin. It was very atmospheric. We also turned down the lights. So we had as little light as possible and we just played it over and over again and just tried to capture this atmosphere. It felt like there was nobody else except the two of us and this wonderful piece and the rest was just quiet, nothing else in the world existed at that moment. And that was very beautiful."

To hear the full 24-minute interview with Janine Jansen, click on the "Janine Jansen Interview" link on the upper right.

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