David Lang Mystery Sonatas
Augustin Hadelich (violin)
Cantaloupe Music CA 21142 42:01 mins
The Mystery Sonatas most record collectors know are Biber’s 15 tortuous, exciting, eccentric solo violin sonatas, crafted in the 1670s as musical versions of the Catholic Church’s chain of prayers on the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Orthodox religion is abandoned in David Lang’s modern off-shoot, but certainly not spirituality. The seven sonatas, labelled like the prayers under the headings of joy, sorrow, and glory, take us on an intimate journey through the American composer’s private thoughts, interpreted with consummate skill and bravery by the gifted Augustin Hadelich. Exposed, alone, often on high, clinging close to the violin’s bridge, any artist performing this music has no place to hide.
The end result may not have quite the hypnotic spell of Lang’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Little Match Girl Passion, but the piece’s supple, generally contemplative melodic line, lightly varied with skipping rhythms, agitated arpeggios, and a little double-stopping, still proves nourishing in an age so dominated by hustle and bustle. You’d never guess from this graceful work, premiered by Hadelich in 2014 in New York, that Lang co-founded the often raucous contemporary music collective Bang on a Can. But that’s another mystery, I guess.