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Joseph Magil
American Record Guide, January 2010

Charles-Auguste de Bériot was the first great Belgian violinist. He was a student of Giovanni Battista Viotti and Pierre Baillot, and as professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatory he taught the great Henri Vieuxtemps, who went on to teach Eugene Ysaÿe. Bériot laid a solid pedagogical foundation for Belgian violinists with these works. While each devotes itself to exploring a technical problem, each is also a character study.

The 12 Scenes or Caprices have titles like ‘Separation’, ‘Queen’, and ‘Consolation’. While not quite as interesting as Paganini’s Caprices, they make much more interesting listening than the 42 Studies by Kreutzer. The Nine Studies don’t have titles, but they are hardly less interesting than the earlier set. The last work, Prélude ou Improvisation, published posthumously, is more of a proper recital piece than the others, though it has its share of technical demands. Bella Hristova has an impeccable technique and plays very stylishly. She draws a mellifluous tone from a 1655 Nicolo Amati violin that used to belong to Louis Krasner.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, December 2009

A disc I had little enthusiasm for when it dropped through the letterbox to review. What a delight to be so humblingly wrong! An extraordinary disc of marvellous music full of character, virtuosity, wit and beauty. Played by the brilliant Bella Hristova—a violinist previously unknown to me—who has the personality and technique to be measured with the very very best. An excellent example of Naxos’ superb exploration of little known repertoire. © 2009 MusicWeb International

Duncan Druce
Gramophone, November 2009

Bella Hristova brings her bountiful talents to bear on Bériot

Charles de Bériot (1802–70), like every instrumental soloist of his time, wrote prolifically for his instrument, and his concertos and airs varies were extremely popular in his lifetime. The studies and caprices recorded here may relate to his career as a teacher (he numbered Henri Vieuxtemps among his pupils, and wrote an important violin method) yet we can hear that they are considerably more than technical exercises. The twelve Scènes ou Caprices, especially, each one with a picturesque title, are clearly concert pieces—showy and virtuoso in style, with a few tricks that recall Paganini, yet never pushing the technical boundaries uncomfortably far. In expression, too, Bériot is content to stick to an easy, melodious manner; the fugal opening to the last of the Nine Studies— “In imitation of the old masters”—doesn’t lead to any intense, Bachian polyphony. However, several pieces show real individuality; the Marche russe (the 10th Caprice) is an inspired invention, the ambitious Fourth Study has wide-ranging modulations that are surprising and effective, and everywhere Bériot writes imaginatively for his instrument, giving the most common formulas an original twist.

Bella Hristova, a young Bulgarian violinist now based in the USA, clearly enjoys playing these pieces. The brilliant passages come easily to her, and her playing throughout is neat and polished, with an elegance that perfectly suits the music. I did feel that some of the slower items needed a more soulful, sentimental approach, but, with this reservation, she’s an admirable advocate for Bériot.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, September 2009

…this disc is an absolute winner…Charles-Auguste de Bériot was a Belgium violinist/composer who was instrumental in founding the Belgian violin school which flourished in the later part of the 19th Century. His compositional legacy has been deemed less significant than his pedagogical one. These discs from Naxos are really the first systematic re-evaluation of his work as a composer. His compositional gifts are clearly an encyclopedic knowledge of the violin allied with a gift for lyrical melodic lines…For any composer in the first half of the 19th Century composing for a solo violin the two great works that comprise the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (BWV1001–1006) and the Paganini 24 Caprices for solo violin loom large. The first published edition of the Bach dates from 1802 (the year of de Bériot’s birth) and the Paganini from 1805–09. De Bériot’s real skill with his 12 Scènes ou Caprices pour le violon Op. 109 is that he neither tries to emulate nor is daunted by either of these monolithic predecessors. Instead he plays to his own strengths outlined above and produces works of enormous charm, musicality and real worth. The key lies in the fact that each of the Scènes are given an illustrative title which allows de Bériot to follow his natural early romantic muse as well as focusing on one particular technical aspect of violin technique. Hence the very first Scène is entitled La Séparation. This starts in melancholy octaves which are then thematically repeated but with richer harmonies before a central agitato section in almost continuous double stopping. It’s very easy to imagine a narrative for this piece to fit the music as described. Jumping forward the fifth Caprice is entitled La Fougue which translates as The Spirit/The Fire. It’s a 3 minute cascade of complex passage-work and fiendishly difficult chordal writing. The musical diversity across the thirty eight minutes of these pieces is a delight.

None of which would count for much if they were not played with the extraordinary virtuosity and musical maturity of Bella Hristova. Young violinists with stainless-steel techniques seem to be two-a-penny currently…Not so here—the 24 year old Hristova combines jaw-dropping technical prowess with real style. To my mind this is old-fashioned playing in the very best sense. In track 1 just listen at 1:02 where she bends the chord—it’s a nuance but for her a natural and effective one. Or else track 8, Saltarella only 13 seconds in where she tosses off a little run of thirds with such ease and grace. I could go on and on about things that are hard on the violin that she makes sound easy. Here, however, is one general thought:  in essence the violin is a linear instrument—it plays lyrical lines better than vertical harmonies. So when Bach writes his fugues or the Chaconne the greatest problem is to produce even tone across all of the chords or inner part-writing. De Bériot writes horizontally and vertically as well and Hristova’s single greatest achievement is the way she is able to tease out the horizontal lines implied in the vertical writing. This is coupled to playing that evinces a glorious range of tone, dynamic and colour. A real feature is fantastic bow-to-string contact; it is always said that great players are truly defined by their bow control not their left hand dexterity.

The liner-notes say that she plays on a 1655 Nicolò Amati violin that used to belong to Louis Krasner—the greatest compliment I can pay her is that she does her instrument and its heritage proud. If you dipped into any of these pieces I cannot imagine any listener being anything but thrilled by the quality of the music-making here…I really enjoyed the engineering of this disc—the violin well placed in a generous acoustic with plenty of detail and instrumental character audible…After the sheer thrill of discovery of the Caprices the Nine Studies that follow are musically more modest but to be fair that is implied by the title. Each focuses more specifically on one aspect of violin technique and I’m sure their function was primarily pedagogical. But in Hristova’s hands they transcend this potential limitation and become works of some stature. Again her ability to “layer” the music bringing out individual strands is exceptional. This well planned programme is completed by the dramatic Prélude ou Improvisation Op. Posth. At some nine and a half minutes long this is by far the longest individual movement on the disc. I love the freedom and truly improvisatory way in which Hristova plays this. I cannot stress too strongly her intuitive musicality—there is a “rightness” to all her choices that I find quite utterly compelling. If I have missed other discs by her I will be seeking them out immediately; if this is her debut disc it is hugely auspicious. This is easily the best violin playing of this kind of repertoire I have heard in a very long time. I hope Naxos will encourage her to record the continuing volumes of this repertoire and much—or anything frankly!—beside.

Exceptional violin playing reviving a major work of the solo violin repertoire.

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