Nobody tells me anything.
I learn about thousands of classical CD titles and listen to hundreds of classical recordings every year, but I still don't know who all the rising young classical artists are in the world. Take, for example, French violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft. His biography reads, "Hailed by critics as an 'outstanding violinist,' 'of fiery temperament,' with 'intense, brilliant, sumptuous sound' and 'impressive virtuosity,' Virgil Boutellis-Taft performs as soloist and chamber musician in major international concert halls." From Wikipedia we learn that he "began studying violin and piano at the age of 6...and gave his first concerts at the age of 9."
Incantation is Boutellis-Taft's second record album, taking its title from the word meaning "the chanting or uttering of words purporting to have magical power; the formula employed; a spell or charm," according to Dictionary.com. The accompanying booklet notes that "'Incantation,' from the Latin word incantare, ranges in meaning from ordinary singing that is 'enchanting' to music in a religious context with a ritual function, as in Gregorian plainchant, then to the unsettling use of magic or demonic spells or charms." Apparently, Mr. Boutellis-Taft in this album is going for the "spiritual, magical, mesmerizing aspects of incantation."
I would have preferred he had just said, "Here are a few of my favorite short violin pieces that let me display my fiery temperament, brilliant sound, and impressive virtuosity." Whatever, the following is a list of what's on the album:
1. "Kol Nidrei" by Max Bruch
2. "Chaccone in G minor" by Tomaso Antonio Vitali
3. "Danse macabre" by Camile Saint-Saens
4. "Serenade melancolique" by Peter Tchaikovsky
5. "Nigun" by Ernest Bloch
6. "Poeme for violin and orchestra" by Ernest Chausson
7. "Yumeji's Theme" by Shigeru Umebayashi
And so it goes, with Boutellis-Taft endowing each work with much expressive distinction and beauty. The Chaconne in G minor, ascribed to Italian composer and violist Tomaso Vitali (1663-1745), continues in that vein, making an almost seamless segue from the Bruch piece. Boutellis-Taft's playing is fluid, effortless, and eloquent, and the Royal Philharmonic's accompaniment sounds as rich as ever.
The Danse macabre (1874) by French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) may seem like a giant leap from the preceding two more contemplative pieces, but, in fact, Boutellis-Taft makes the leap with consummate ease, taking the work a little less demonically than some interpreters do and filling it with much poetic beauty. I would note here, too, that Boutellis-Taft uses a new violin-and-orchestra rendering of the piece, not Saint-Saens's original orchestral version.
My own favorite among the seven selections was the Poeme pour violin et orchestre by French composer Ernest Chausson (1855-1899). Boutellis-Taft brings out all the exotic color of the work without resorting to any hint of over sentimentalizing or romanticizing. It's quite lovely.
Incantation lives up to its name, manifesting much magic, mystery, beauty, enchantment, and angelic intensity thanks to Boutellis-Taft's heartfelt execution. He is a performer to be reckoned with, and I expect we will be hearing more good things from him from here on out.
Producers Hugo Scremin and Nicolas Bartholomee and engineer Francois Eckert recorded the music at Henry Wood Hall, London in July 2019. The sound is very clean, if a bit one-dimensional. Definition is precise, and the violin appears well integrated with the orchestra, not too far in front yet not overpowered by the orchestral forces. The frequency response is nicely balanced as well, although the highest treble and deepest bass seem a tad lacking. Nevertheless, most listeners should find it more than satisfactory. Ditto for the dynamic range and impact. Very cleanly executed.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: