Sunday, August 24, 2014

Koh's 'Two by Four' thoroughly enjoyable

Few classical music albums in recent years have given me as much pleasure as Two X Four, the album Jennifer Koh released this year with fellow violinist Jaime Laredo, who was formerly her teacher.

The title comes from the concept (two violinists, an "elder statesman" still playing well and a young player in her prime) and the number of compositions (four, with three modern pieces and two world premieres.)

The paring of Laredo and Koh reminds me a bit of a blues album I bought years ago, one that combined  Stevie Ray Vaughn with Albert King.  Koh and Laredo play well together, as you might expect from Laredo's rep and Koh's previous efforts, such as this one. 

But an album like this ultimately will stand or fall on the quality of the pieces, and that's where Two X Four does particularly well.

It matches up a Bach warhorse, the "Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor" BWV 1043, with an Anna Clyne piece, "Prince of Clouds," Philip Glass' "Echorus" and David Ludwig's "Seasons Lost."

Hybrid albums of new and old can be a risky strategy — if the modern pieces aren't very good, they'll be exposed pretty quickly.

But when I heard the Anna Clyne, I felt I'd made a big discovery. I loved the moments of drama, the ethereal melodies and the way the piece unfolded in my brain as I played it over and over again. I'll disclose that I was sent a review copy of the album by Cedille Records. But if it gives you an idea of how I felt about the Clyne, who I'd never heard of before, I then bought everything available by her on Amazon's MP3 store and Google's Play store. I bought two whole albums, plus various pieces from other albums that I put together as a playlist. Clyne is the composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; I look forward to following her career.

Anna Clyne

The other pieces are a short, melodic Glass piece, "Echorus," and the Ludwig. Although the notes included with the CD don't mention it, the Glass is a chamber orchestra version of the second etude from Glass' lovely "Six Etudes for Piano" from 1994, which I first encountered on Bruce Brubaker's excellent Time Curve album.

The Koh-Laredo album concludes with Ludwig's "Season's Lost," four short pieces for winter, spring, summer and fall. They didn't make as big an impression on me as the Clyne, but they are vivid and pictorial and I was glad to meet Ludwig's music. The Clyne and Ludwig are both world premieres.

The media section of Koh's official site has several videos about Two X Four, but here's one with Clyne and Koh talking about Clyne's contribution. Koh explains that she heard a string piece from Clyne and thought it was the most beautiful composition she'd heard in a long time. That's how I felt about "Prince of Clouds."


  1. Tom,
    You may like Jennifer Koh's debut performance with the NY Philharmonic in Jan. 2013 (conduced by L. Maazel) in which she gave a stunning rendition of Lutoslawski's "Chain II":