Classical Album Review: Violinist Maria Ioudenitch’s “Songbird” Soars

By Jonathan Blumhofer

Violinist Maria Ioudenitch seems to know how to get directly at the expressive core of this fare without devolving into showboating or histrionics.

“Everyone wants a prodigy to fail,” Harold Bloom once noted. “It makes our mediocrity more bearable.” If that’s always the case, the great literary critic would likely be disappointed with Songbird, the long-awaited debut album from the Russian-born violinist Maria Ioudenitch: it soars.

Ioudenitch, who won the 2021 Josef Joachim International Competition, is, as one expects, a fiddler with all the notes easily in hand. But here she displays more than just technical prowess. Her tone is rich and golden, which fits the album’s program – a mix of song arrangements and short solo works framing Franz Schubert’s great Fantasie in C major – beautifully.

What’s more, she seems to know how to get directly at the expressive core of this fare without devolving into showboating or histrionics. That can be easier said than done in piece like Amy Beach’s Romance, whose mix lyricism and filigree can, in lesser hands, quickly become cloying.

But Ioudenitch and pianist Kenny Broberg avoid any such pitfalls: everything is well balanced and, also, thoughtfully sculpted. The results are touching but never forced, a marriage of heart and intellect that serves the performers and the composer exceedingly well.

So it more or less goes in the rest of the brief works, highlights of which include the second of three Romances by Robert Schumann, a haunting account of Nadia Boulanger’s “Soleils couchants,” and Richard Strauss’s “Morgen” (in which Ioudenitch and Broberg are joined by soprano Theresa Pilsl).

The best qualities of these performance also inhabit the pairing’s account of the Schubert. Indeed, this is a piece that leaves precious little room for a player to hide: technical demands on both instruments are immense and textures are frequently lean (especially when the pianist, as Broberg seems to be doing here, doesn’t rely too much on the pedal). When, in such circumstances, the stars align, the results can be electrifying.

The present interpretation certainly recommends itself: flowing, songful, shapely. Ioudenitch delivers her solos with pinpoint accuracy, not one double stop, octave leap, or galloping arpeggio falling out of place. For color, character, and precision, Broberg is fully her equal, playing the involved piano part (especially during the third-movement variations) with a terrific sense of gusto and style.

Jonathan Blumhofer is a composer and violist who has been active in the greater Boston area since 2004. His music has received numerous awards and been performed by various ensembles, including the American Composers Orchestra, Kiev Philharmonic, Camerata Chicago, Xanthos Ensemble, and Juventas New Music Group. Since receiving his doctorate from Boston University in 2010, Jon has taught at Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and online for the University of Phoenix, in addition to writing music criticism for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

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