Belgian violinist Wibert Aerts is a member of Het Collectief, an ensemble based out of Brussels that specializes in the interpretation of contemporary music. While he has recorded as a member of Het Collectief and with the Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles, Fuga Libera's Violin Faces appears to be his first outing on disc as soloist. It is a genuinely solo outing in that he interprets four violin works composed without accompaniment, and not just the usual Bach, Ysayë, and Bartók works heard in such context. Here are lesser known, and completely worthwhile, violin solo works by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Bernd Zimmermann, Luciano Berio, and Malaysian composer Kee-Yong Chong. Chong works extensively with Het Collectief, who recorded his Mourning the Murder of an Old Banyan Tree to fill out their recording of Messiaen's Quatuor pour de la fin de temps.
Hartmann is thought, in some circles, to be a rather dry and academic composer in the vein of Hindemith; however, his Second Sonata for solo violin (1927) is a passionate and dazzling work that feels like a group of four etudes. The second movement is a meaty and propulsive Perpetuum mobile that Aerts clearly loves playing; the third movement "Sehr langsame" is a touching statement notable for its emotional depth, sobriety, and simplicity. Zimmermann's Sonata for solo violin (1951) is an early work that shows the influence of Bartók but has a great deal more flexibility, almost sounding like an improvisation; it is also better known than the Hartmann. Berio's Sequenza VIII (1976) is the most famous work presented here, and perhaps the piece of Berio's that comes closest to incorporating genuine minimalism, owing to its long stretches of rapid, repeated notes; Aerts invests it with a great amount of contrast, though in some quiet passages the recording could really stand to be a bit louder. Chong's For another better world (2006) treats the violin as a sort of super-traditional instrument, something capable of representing or imitating the sound of several Asian instruments, though at times the sound of the traditional Western violin pokes through the texture, resulting in a dialogue of a kind between East and West. Its mood is somber and dramatic, its title indicating a sort of sad meditation on the world and its condition both environmentally and in a political sense.
The liner notes, by composer Jean-Pierre Deleuze, appear to demonstrate more enthusiasm than knowledge, as we are told that the German solo violin sonata begins with Biber in the late seventeenth century, though it appears to have begun earlier in the century with a fellow named Johann Schop, a middling point, perhaps. Nevertheless, Violin Faces is an excellent album, a strong solo debut for Aerts, and should enthrall most fanciers of solo violin literature.