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Isabelle van Keulen began studying the violin aged six, giving her first concert four years later. She studied at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam under Davina van Wely; further studies took place with Boris Gutnikov and Vladimir Spivakov, then with Sándor Végh at the Salzburg Mozarteum. After winning a competition in The Hague in 1980 and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in Folkestone, she won the Eurovision Young Musician of the Year in 1984 and by 1990 was considered one of Europe’s foremost violinists. Seen as a Classical violinist in the tradition of compatriots Theo Olof and Hermann Krebbers, she has nonetheless spent considerable time playing and recording more recent repertoire, with a repertory ranging from Mozart concertos to modern and postmodern works by composers such as Lutosławski, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Pettersson and Henkemans. Since 1990 Keulen has also appeared increasingly as a viola player (her recordings include playing both parts in Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante). In 1995 she founded the Isos Quartet in which she plays first violin, having also appeared as a guest artist with the Hagen, Orlando and Borodin Quartets at numerous festivals including the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival and her own Delft Chamber Music Festival. In 2007 she began leading the Leopold String Trio. Van Keulen also teaches at the Basle Music Academy and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague.

Van Keulen’s recordings reveal a consummate, if somewhat aloof, artist. Her Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra (1995) is precisely delivered. The slow movement, which is a duo for violin and piano, begins especially beautifully, and her sound, although in no way historical relative to this repertoire, is nonetheless well matched to this elevated musical context. A passionate side to van Keulen’s playing can be found in the Berg Concerto (2009) which, whilst relatively conventional in most respects, has a dramatic opening to the finale which suits the feverish mood very well. Characterful readings of Grieg’s Op. 8 Sonata and Elgar’s Sospiri (2008) are enjoyable listening experiences.

How one reacts to van Keulen’s playing is, as always, a matter of taste. Certainly, it is free of excessive mannerisms (such as pronounced vibrato) employed by many late-twentieth-century mainstream violinists. Her clarity is very much in her favour, although at times (as at the opening of the Grieg Sonata) her bowing technique results in a brassy sound. This is, however, favoured by many modern players and, as a means of expression, gives her playing an assertive quality that works well in some contexts, such as the Martinů piece selected here. More certain is her versatility as violinist and violist across a range of repertory.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

Role: Classical Artist 
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