Music Reviews

‘Solitude’ from Niek Baar and Ben Kim

A definite proof of his exceptional musicianship.

In an earlier blog devoted to Niek Baar, I said: “It may still be early days, but it would seem to me that there is a new star in the Dutch musical firmament”. These ‘early days’ are now over. Further proof of his exceptional musicianship is here and to me, it is definitive. It gets crowded at the top of young Dutch violinists, but with Niek on board, it is no longer a ‘chasse-gardée’ of his female colleagues like Lisa Jacobs, Simone Lamsma, Maria Milstein, and Noa Wildschut, to name but a few, and possibly with Hawijch Elders waiting in the wings.

After his successful debut ‘Obsession’ Baar has now recorded with his American piano partner, Ben Kim, two of the three Violin Sonatas of Robert Schumann, including the -not without reason- less often played third, embracing three Romances of Robert’s spouse, Clara. 

As customary nowadays, Baar has written a personal introduction in which he observes: “His music, obsessively swinging between fiery turmoil and tender longing, gave us a common language to communicate”. And indeed, the communication between Niek and Ben could not be bettered.

A precious instrument is not enough.

It isn’t mentioned in the liner notes, but Niek Baar plays the so-called ‘ex Vornbaum’ violin, built by Carlo Bergonzi in Cremona in 1729.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. Playing a precious instrument helps, but only if the violinist is in control. And if he is, the violin comes to life. Apart from all technical mastery and perfect interplay with his partner, what struck me most was the beautiful tone Baar draws from his instrument. Some use excessive vibrato to enhance emotion and create a romantic mood. Not so Baar. With little or no vibrato, it is his exceptionally well-developed bowing artistry that clearly allows him to produce the same effect, in my view reminiscent of Joshua Bell, famous for his tonal beauty and refined expression.

Upscaling Schumann’s Second Violin Sonata.

For many, Schumann’s violin sonatas live in the shadow of Brahm’s. Listening to Niek and Ben, I’m pleased to say that this needn’t be. In their musically committed reading, Schumann’s Second Violin Sonata is lifted out into the sparkling and praising sun. For this alone, the album is already worth your money. 

But there is so much more to enjoy. For instance, Robert’s Third Sonata, with which the programme begins. It originated from his contribution to a commonly crafted Sonata in honour of the Austro-Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim, based on the letters F–A–E (frei aber einsam, free but alone), Joachim’s motto. The two other movements were written by Johannes Brahms and Albert Dietrich. Schumann later completed his part into a four-movement sonata. The complex structure, foreboding Schumann’s illness, as well as technical difficulties, demand a full understanding of the interpreters. Both comply with admirable skill.

The delicate charm is in the middle.

Instead of doing the three sonatas, Niek Baar and Ben Kim opted for the inclusion of three romances by Clara Schumann as a token of the mutual love that existed between the Schumanns. These delicate pieces form the heart of the programme and are carefully placed in the middle, to be hugged and played with commensurate tenderness by both Niek and Ben.

With Jared Sacks taking care of the sound, and after reading the interesting liner notes, what more could one possibly ask for? 

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


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