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Puccini: La bohème (arr. violin and piano)

Mathieu van Bellen (violin), Mathias Halvorsen (piano) (Backlash Music)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

La bohème (arr. violin and piano)
Mathieu van Bellen (violin), Mathias Halvorsen (piano)
Backlash Music BM010   89:00 mins (2 discs)


Italian opera is all about the beautiful voice – or is it? Liszt transcribed operatic excerpts for the piano and tunes from the opera are staples of the brass band repertoire. But has anyone ever performed an entire opera without singers?

They have now. Violinist Mathieu van Bellen and pianist Mathias Halvorsen have arranged La bohème as a duet for their respective instruments – a herculean task, as they claim to have included every note in the full score. The changing textures of Puccini’s highly sophisticated orchestration are captured by employing every technique in the violinist’s arsenal. Interestingly, it is the busiest passages of orchestration that are conveyed to greatest effect with these slimmed-down resources. The bohemians’ high jinks – played by van Bellen and Halvorsen with tremendous bravura – are distilled brilliantly, whilst at the end of Act II the arrangement mind-bogglingly creates the effect of an entire marching band.

Even more astonishingly, each character’s ‘voice’ is given a distinctive tone colour. Mimì is fragile, Rodolfo is assertive, though both are played by the violin, and by some wizardry these distinctions are apparent even when the two ‘sing’ together in duet. Such is the emotional commitment of the two musicians, the sense of immediacy in the recording, and the lush, dynamic playing inspired by performers from Puccini’s own era such as Fritz Kreisler and Leopold Godowsky, that by the time we reach the end it is quite possible to forget that we have not been listening to ‘the real thing’. Bravi, van Bellen and Halvorsen, for this ravishing achievement.


Alexandra Wilson