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Finnegan’s Wake – new music for violin and piano
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1943) [19:27]
Elliott CARTER (b.1908)
Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi for violin solo (1984) [7:11]
Ching-chu HU (b.1969)
Passions for Violin and Piano (2001) [9:59]
Jeremy Dale ROBERTS (b.1934)
Capriccio for Violin and Piano (1965) [11:25]
Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
Spring of Chosroes for Violin and Piano (1977) [14:15]
David GOMPPER (b.1954)
Finnegan's Wake for Violin and Piano (1997) [7:45]
Wolfgang David (violin), David Gompper (piano)
rec. Gnessin Academy, Moscow, 19-23 April 2003. DDD


No mention is made of the perverse reason for adding an apostrophe to ‘Finnegans Wake’ in the programme notes, and with David Gompper’s eponymously titled piece having an Irish fiddle reel as its source material he should know better. It’s a small point - although it wasn’t to Joyce - and may even be intentional, though I really don’t see the point of promoting or perpetuating that particular literary howler. While I’m having a moan, the average age of the pieces here is about 1978, so ‘new music’ is also not entirely accurate. Many of these pieces will however be new to many people, so I won’t mention this point again.

Copland’s 1943 Sonata is dedicated to a friend of the composer, Larry Durham, who was killed in action in the South Pacific. The work’s tragic character is expressed in relatively simple melodic lines, Copland’s fingerprint open intervals and often declamatory accompaniment from the piano. The second movement is almost medieval in its bell-like and canonic writing, and the modal harmonic effects are continued into the more energetic Allegretto giusto third movement, with its playful imitative writing between the piano and violin.

A little more space between the closing chimes of the Copland and Elliott Carter’s Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi would have been better, but the programming is good, with the solo piece breathing poetic depth into Copland’s stable tonality. Despite being characteristically atonal, this piece is made approachable by its expressive, slow lines, given markings like dolce, legatissimo, and scorrevole. There are intervals of more gestural writing, but the overall impression is of a fairly introverted, almost improvisatory music.

Ching-chu Hu’s Passions opens with an extended solo for the violin, promising a rocky road ahead. The sweetly expressive entry of the piano therefore comes almost as a shock. Hu is an Asian/American composer, and approaches this piece with that duality in mind – the rich European tradition being played against idioms which appear on traditional Chinese bowed instruments. Without the associations in sonority which the composer intends, the development of the piece has an almost purely romantic feel to my western ears, with Chinese musical gestures and much double-stopping in the violin thrown in at the climax.

All in all Hu’s piece works well enough, and provides an interesting contrast with the more rigorous sounding Capriccio by Jeremy Dale Roberts. Roberts, born in Gloucestershire, is a former head of composition at the Royal College of Music in London. The composer notes that the music is based on a number of Paganini’s Capricci, Bartók’s Duos and hints of Szymanowski. The opening melodic flourishes provide the material for the entire piece, treated to a wide-ranging palette of expressive, sometimes almost fragmentary, moments. The work is atmospheric and disciplined at the same time, with effective bell-like sonorities in the piano, and a finale which builds to a veritable musical firestorm – dissipated in a final coda which casts us adrift on mist-covered waters.

Morton Feldman’s 1977 Spring of Chosroes possesses all of that nagging beauty which characterises his mature work. The title refers to ‘a marvellous carpet representing a garden’ which, as legend has it, was woven during the reign of the Sassanid prince Chosroes (531-579 AD). The carpet pattern is of course an appropriate connection to Feldman’s often spatial approach to notation. The piece has a hypnotic effect, with an overall soft dynamic and a great deal of silence between the notes. For the uninitiated, this is, at only 14 minutes, a good introduction to Feldman’s uncompromisingly sparse sound-world.

So, we come to the title track. The Irish fiddle sets in straight away, immediately dispersing Feldman’s intensity. As one might expect with such material, the music swings and dances, and Gompper’s writing for both piano and violin is highly effective. The Green Groves of Erin is the popular reel from which much of the music is derived, but Gompper’s idiom takes this starting point into the ‘art music’ world. In doing so has created a superb concert piece with a great deal of character and substance.

The playing on this CD is highly accomplished, and the recording is atmospheric – set in a fairly resonant acoustic, but losing none of the detail which such pieces demand. At 70 minutes it is a well considered and attractive programme which will provide an interesting voyage of pleasant discovery for many. I still stick up for Joyce, but in spite of my apostrophe fixation I think this CD deserves solid and unreserved recommendation.

Dominy Clements


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