Ruth Palmer

Hidden Acoustics

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Ruth Palmer is one of the young, often female British violinists who come along every few years and make a splash with good stage presentation and some kind of twist. The twist in her case has been a series of concerts exploring the acoustics of unusual spaces around London, for this 2008 recording, the medieval Temple Church originally constructed by the Knights Templar. Or, one might say, she uses the acoustics to explore the music. The emphasis is redirected toward quiet passages that gain new prominence in her generally slow tempos. The giant Chaconne finale of the Bach Partita No. 2 for solo violin in D minor, BWV 1004, clocks in at almost 17 minutes as Palmer leaves herself plenty of space for sound to reverberate and die away. The Bartók Sonata for solo violin, Sz. 117, of 1944, seems to revolve around its harsh-edged themes and contrasting use of harmonics, and Palmer builds up a good deal of tension over the course of its four movements. One may feel that Palmer is essentially indulging in a gimmick here -- she's forcing a layer onto the music that it does not naturally contain -- and yet admire her ability to sustain an hour of extremely intense solo violin music, miked close up on a powerhouse of a 1726 Stradivarius, without losing variety or energy. Sampling a few tracks on this recording is likely to suggest whether you take to its unique mix of sound and structure. Reactions here will be individual and across the board.

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