William BOLCOM (b.
1938) Works for violin and piano
Third Sonata (Sonata Stramba) (1993) [19:51]
Second Sonata (1978) [17:36]
Fourth Sonata (1994) [14:19] Graceful Ghost Rag (1979) [5:33]
Renata Artman Knific (violin)
Lori Sims (piano)
rec. 4-6 June 2006, Dalton Centre, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan. MSR CLASSICS
with a recent Naxos release of the complete
violin sonatas (8.559150 - see review),
this CD is missing the First Sonata of 1956, but includes
Ghost Rag by
way of compensation.
by the excellent music
for two pianos CD (Naxos 8.559244 - see review),
I looked at a couple of years ago I was looking forward to
The music is still very much the eclectic and wide-ranging
collection of styles and references both challenging and
attractive, but the strength of William Bolcom as an individual
voice is always more than the sum of its parts. In a personal
note which introduces this disc, Bolcom’s friend and colleague
C. Curtis-Smith sums up this phenomenon well: “…his music
is not eclectic in the accepted definition of that word (as
in a grab-bag of styles). He sees straight through a musical
choice, and chooses a technique or style as an expressive
expressive imperatives range from the drama of the first
movement of the Third Sonata, which, not for nothing,
is marked dramatico – Allegro con fuoco. Bolcom’s
markings are often descriptive, Like a shiver for
the fleeting third movement, which moves straight into a
kind of funereal march; Moderato, risoluto. This last
movement has a resonant, simple idea which could have turned
into a miniature, but is instead given nearly seven minutes
of variations, which might be too long, but given Bolcom’s
inventive nature not by much.
Sonata begins with a more easygoing movement called Summer
Dreams, which ambles along in the piano but with a
sometimes almost polytonally independent violin part. The
dreams become more angular and disturbing later on, finally
settling into the mood of the opening towards the end. Brutal,
fast characterises the second movement, which is less
of a dialogue than an argument between piano and violin.
The subsequent Adagio is expressive and elegiac
while maintaining a tonal ambiguity, and the finale, In
Memory of Joe Venuti, is, perhaps unexpectedly, in
a catchy and swinging jazz idiom.
Sonata is more compact than the others, and Bolcom
seems less willing to explore more slender musical ideas
through longer time spans. The first movement is terse
and intense, contrasting with the gestural sweeps of the
second movement, marked White Night. This is followed
by an Arabesque in which the rhythms of the piano
are punctuated by taps on the wood of the violin. This
is the miniature which the final movement of the Third
Sonata could have become, revolving around the ‘musette’ of
a single tone. This movement connects directly to the finale, Jota,
which at first weaves and dives like gannets flying and
plunging for fish. An eloquent central section develops
and grows through chromatic steps towards a dramatic climax
Ghost Rag is one of those timeless tunes which one
feels should have been around for at least a hundred years,
mixing the identifying turns and mood of Scott Joplin with
the elegance of a 19th century salon setting.
There were one or two moments where I felt the ‘jazz’ idiom
might have been given a little more freedom in the violin
here, but this is a minor quibble.
the Naxos CD hogging the market for these pieces and having
the First Sonata as an extra selling point, this disc
may find it hard to make its way in a competitive market.
There is no information on the individual pieces in the booklet
either. With a fine recording and very good playing from
both musicians however – both seasoned and prize-winning
professionals – it would be a shame if this release were
to sink without trace, and with the quality of music and
musicianship on offer I can only urge you to give it a chance.
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