The field of single-performer voice and violin works is a niche of exploration especially in the hands and voice of Hope Wechkin. Wechkin’s Leaning Toward the Fiddler, released by Ravello Records in early 2013, is an exploration of Wechkin’s honest musicality and musical interests. On this recording, Wechkin presents a kaleidoscope of folk styles from Bosnia to Croatia to New York City’s Lower East Side.
Wechkin began studying violin at age four under the Suzuki method. She graduated from Yale University, where she conducted the Yale Slavic Chorus. She has studied voice with Thomasa Eckert and Nancy Zylstra. In what might seem like an odd coupling to some, Wechkin is also a physician in palliative medicine. However, her interest in the mind-body connection is precisely what makes her music special. She plays and sings with an apparent skill in both areas without ever pushing the body to produce beyond its natural inclinations.
The most successful moments of this recording spring forth in the Croatian, Russian, and Bosnian folk song arrangements. Mujo Kuje, the first track of the recording, is a superbly balanced expression between the voice and the violin. This Bosnian folk song is classified as a “sevdah” which is marked by themes of “passionate longing.” The violin alternates between drone accompaniment and melancholic harmonies that mimic the plaintive arcs of the voice. Similarly, Rumena Si, the Croatian folk song that concludes the recording, emphasizes Wechkin’s musical tenderness and the nostalgic quality of her voice. Not simply a standard lullaby from the mother’s point of view, Wechkin also provides the child’s response.
Rumena si kako i naranča
Ili ti je naranča rodila?
Ni je mene naranča rodila;
Već je mene mila majka moja.
Bukva mi je za zikvicu bila,
Ziba la me, od Učka do mora.
You are like a rosy orange!
Were you born on an orange tree?
No, I wasn’t born by an orange;
but my dearest mother bore me.
I was cradled in the beech tree,
Stormy winds rocked me, from Učka to the sea.
It is quite pleasant to listen to the effortlessness with which Wechkin plays the violin. Particularly on tracks such as Henryesque in which she used Dvorak’s buoyant Humoresque as her point of inspiration to musically describe the “sense of humor and playfulness of [her] son, Henry.” Also, Last and Final is an energetic outing for solo fiddle that invokes an “elderly man’s dream of one last spirited dance on earth.”
Wechkin seems to draw from the well of experience on this recording. Not just her own experiences, but that sense of a common human experience found in the long tradition of folk music from around the world. Her specific graceful and unforced timbres and expression make Leaning Toward the Fiddler an evocative and genuine recording.