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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 (1977) [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. 19-23 April 2003, Gnessin Academy, Moscow. DDD.

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Violinists are amongst the many musicians celebrated in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, as in a mention of Pietro Castrucci (“I introduced her … to our fourposter tunies chantreying under Castrucci Sinior”) so the title of Joyce’s great fiction - even with an intrusive apostrophe – makes a perfectly appropriate title for this collection of modern music for the violin.

Aaron Copland’s Sonata was dedicated to the memory of a friend, Lieutenant Harry H. Dunham, who was shot down over the Pacific in the course of World War II - though Copland had actually finished the Sonata before hearing news of Dunham’s death. It is a fine, and moving, piece. Each of the three movements closes quietly and there is plenty of interplay between the instruments - the pianist is far more than a mere accompanist – which, with frequent changes of tempo, at times has an almost improvisatory feel about it. The changes of tempo in the first movement are particularly striking and expressive, and are very well handled in this performance. The lento second movement is beautiful in its calm simplicity, which contrasts very effectively with the far greater complexity and variety of the closing allegretto.

Carter’s Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi might be said both to ‘recognise’ the occasion of its dedicatee’s 80th birthday, for which it was written, and embrace something of the Italianate nature of Petrassi’s own music. The two composers became friends during Carter’s time as visiting composer at the American Academy in Rome. It demands a virtuoso soloist – and it finds one here. Use is made of three distinct idioms, between which it switches abruptly. Some of the writing is poignant and lyrical (marked dolce, legatissimo, scorrevole), some is discordant and aggressive (giocasemente, furioso, martellato), some is reflective (tranquillo, ben legato). The transitions are fluid and the entire work, in this fine performance, is an affectionate and graceful tribute.

Passions begins with a longish section for unaccompanied violin, in which there are clear echoes of the Chinese musical idioms of the composer’s childhood. The piece as a whole mixes western and eastern musical gestures. The results are pleasant but not especially memorable.

Jeremy Dale Roberts is the English representative in the programme. His Capriccio is dedicated to Howard Ferguson. The composer says of the piece that it is modelled after various of Paganini’s Capricci, the duo sonatas of Béla Bartok and “certain traits in the music of … Szymanowski”. I can hear more of Bartók and Szymanowski than of Paganini, in a piece which is consistently interesting but which somehow doesn’t quite catch fire until very near the end of its more than eleven minutes of music.

Feldman’s Spring of Chosroes is one of his hypnotic musical negotiations with stasis and pattern, which were much influenced by the composer’s interest in Near and Middle Eastern rugs and carpets – the work’s title refers to the legendary carpet woven for Prince Chosroes, which was some sixty yards square and on which was represented a garden, full of running water and flowers, trees and paths. This ‘paradisal’ image receives a musical interpretation built out of silence and stillness, repetition and very gradual change. No one familiar with Feldman’s mature music will expect obvious excitement – what they will expect and will hear, is music of distinctive beauty which demands, and rewards, absolute attention. It operates through small-scale details, where the most minute differences carry immense significance. It demands so much precise attention from the listener that I find it simultaneously stimulating and exhausting.

Certainly David Gompper’s Finnegan’s Wake, described by its composer as presenting “Irish-Appalachia-Texas fiddle traditions embedded within the context of art music”, comes as something of a shock to the system if one simply allows the CD to run its course - probably best avoided. An utterly different scale of significance operates here, and the musical idioms could hardly be more different. This is witty and playful stuff, dance rhythms and tunes taken in unlikely directions and here performed with great gusto, with the composer at the piano.

This is a richly various and enjoyable programme. The works by Copland, Carter and Feldman are important and, in their very different ways, profoundly satisfying pieces. Those by Hu, Roberts and Gompper are all of interest and well worth the hearing. David and Gompper are obviously highly accomplished musicians. In both technique and musical intelligence they are well equipped to cope with this demanding programme and I look forward to hearing more of their work.

Glyn Pursglove

See also Review by Dominy Clements


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