Incantation

Composers: Bruch, Vitali, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, Bloch, Chausson, Umebayashi
Compositions: Selections for violin
Performers: Virgil Boutellis-Taft v, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jac Van Steen cond
Catalogue Number: Aparté AP234

French violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft has chosen “selections” rather than the usual “a concerto or two” approach. Calling the disc Incantation offers a lot of scope as far as repertoire is concerned, for the term itself has numerous meanings and suggestions. It can mean singing, which is enchanting to the listener; in a religious sense it has a ritual function and perhaps more commonly, in daily parlance, it is suggestive of a more cautious undertaking as magic or a negative spell being cast upon someone.

Boutellis-Taft’s recital is equally broad with selections of a religious nature as in Bruch’s Kol Nidrei and Bloch’s Nigun (from Baal Shem). The unsettling manner that the word suggests is playfully summed up with Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre with its xylophone suggesting the bones of the dead but the other pieces (Vitali’s Chaconne – a favourite of Milstein. Chausson’s Poème and Tchaikovsky’s Sérenade Mélancolique) do not really fall under this description. Perhaps if the suggestion is to make the listener sigh… well, that’s not really what incantation is about.

With Paul Bateman’s arrangement of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei which opens the disc, doubts appear as to the arrangement’s effectiveness, as the mood invoked by the soloist and orchestra is not one of sadness and tears. And the arrangement itself is strange in that in the original (scored for cello), the melody starts in the tenor range and adds emphasis by transferring downwards to the baritonal register. Here, instead, the violin starts in the tenor and then moves upward, thus ruining the impact of the repeat. This is troublesome, and a pity as the soloist does possess a fine tonal palette, which is not given a chance to truly blaze. With the Tchaikovsky, the speed is faster than I’m familiar with, robbing the piece of emotional impact. The sound of this disc is wide-ranging but lacking in depth of emotion.