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New England Legacy
Quincy PORTER (1897-1966)

Violin Sonata No.2 (1929) [16:10]
Four Pieces for violin and piano (1947) [12:51]
Walter PISTON (1894-1976)

Violin Sonata (1939) [17:22]
Amy BEACH (1867-1944)

Three Compositions Op.40 (1898): La Captiva [3:25]; Berceuse [3:02]; Mazurka [3:06]
Joel Pitchon (violin)
Jonathan Bass (piano)
rec. Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall, Smith College, Northampton MA, undated
GASPARO GSCD 367 [56:18]

 

I like discs like this. They have a programmatic security and intelligence to them. They survey time and place and do so imaginatively. This one also shouts a name - to me at least; Louis Kaufman. This is just the kind of thing that luscious tonalist would have given us, a bewitching recital of Americana. In fact he did leave us with one inscription to duplicate the Gasparo collection - Quincy Porterís 1929 Second Sonata where he was accompanied by Artur Balsam; you can find it on Music & Arts CD 638.

Unfettered by such considerations however the Pitchon-Bass duo steps up. The Porter sonata is a fine one, with its share of jazz era moments in the second movement and highly superior canonic writing in the first. Its lyric profile means that a rich toned player can extract the maximum in emotive contrasts and the pianist can also act as an infectious partner in this respect. This is a good performance. The contours sound right, the duo is finely synchronized and their instincts are just. I liked Bassís jazzy take at 2.30 in the Andante. What I missed, being critical, is the sense of narrative commitment that makes the Kaufman-Balsam so heady an experience. The impetus is rather lost in the newcomerís performance, especially in the slow movement. The finale too is not nearly so richly characterised as in the older performance; itís touch placid and at a slower tempo. Porterís Four Pieces are unpretentious genre pieces but they show how well he knew the instrument Ė he was a fine violinist.

Pistonís Sonata dates from a decade later, on the cusp of World War. Itís a far more austere work as one might imagine from the temperaments of the respective composers. But Pistonís lyric sensibility shines through without impediment in this performance, its more frankly dissonant moments discerningly realised as well. The slow movementís melancholy-tinged direction could do with more tonal variety than we find here, though the finaleís fugal section has plenty of vigour. There are also moments when the violin seems rather backwardly balanced.

Amy Beachís New England bears similarity with the genre warmth of Porterís much later Four Pieces. Hers too are steeped in violin lore and date from 1898. Le Captive is for the G-string, a lyric parlour effusion, whilst its companions breathe much the same air Ė unobtrusive and pleasurable and not at all pretentious.

An enjoyable recital then from two responsive musicians. Greater tonal variety and tensile strength would have brought greater results but perhaps that restraint is a suitably New England quality.

Jonathan Woolf


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