Samples & Downloads
George ROCHBERG (1918-2005)
*Violin Sonata (1988) [25:49]
Caprice Variations, for solo violin (1970) [90:20]
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
*Aaron Schorr (piano)
rec. St John's Church, Loughton, England, 28-30 August 2000; *Steve
& Judy Turner Recital Hall, Vanderbilt University, 23
February 2004. DDD
METIER MSV 28521 [63:17 + 52:52]
If the cover of this CD seems vaguely familiar to fans of George
Rochberg's music, there is a good reason: it is practically
identical to the one used for the 2003 release by Métier of
this very recording of the Caprice Variations (MSV 92065).
On its website Métier, these days part of Divine Art, bills
itself as "The Label for New Music". On this release
the meaning of "new" is stretched in some other ways
too: Rochberg's Violin Sonata is nearly twenty-five years
old, the Caprice Variations more than forty years.
In fact, all that is really new here is the publication of Skærved
and Schorr's recording of the Violin Sonata, though the
session itself took place seven years ago. Written in 1988,
the Sonata has been a long time coming, but it is certainly
worth the wait: this is a major discovery - a work that is complex,
virtuosic, haunted, uncompromising, and yet which still exudes,
like much of Rochberg's music after his abandonment of serialism
in the 1960s, a considerable amount of lyricism, passion, melody
and tranquillity. All four movements share certain characteristics
and reflect these attributes to different degrees, but of especial
noteworthiness is the second movement scherzo capriccioso,
which is a quite beautiful cacophony, a frenzied bare-knuckle
fist fight at times between atonality and neo-Romanticism.
The timing for the Caprice Variations given above is
not a misprint - this really is ninety minutes of solo violin
variations of a single Caprice by Paganini. That may
not strike many as the best way to attain listening nirvana,
but Rochberg clearly had other considerations besides the stamina
of audiences and soloists. There is no doubt here that Rochberg's
boundless imagination and application of sometimes outrageous
technique might well have surprised even Paganini himself. Just
when Rochberg seems to have said everything that was left to
say - especially given what the likes of Paganini, Brahms, Rachmaninov,
Blacher and Lutoslawski have already said - he comes up with
another amazing slant or insight.
Also, and perhaps more importantly to anyone quailing at the
thought of an hour and a half of the kind of modernism turning
up in the Sonata, it is not until Variation XVIII that
there is something of an aural shock, delivered out of nowhere
by very high-pitched jabbings that reference Rochberg's own
superb String Quartet no.3, re-released incidentally
in a two-disc set by New World last year - see review.
Violence returns in Variation XXXV, but otherwise most of the
music could almost have come from Eugène Ysaÿe's pen seventy-five
years earlier, and some of it actually sounds like Paganini
himself - or even Bach. This epic work has time to pay tribute
by way of quotation to Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler
among others, and closes with Paganini's famous 24th Caprice
in all its glory - well, in some of it, because Rochberg
only gives it 35 seconds before abruptly pulling the plug on
the whole work!
From an audience perspective, 90 minutes is a long time to sit
and listen to solo violin or variations on a theme, let alone
both at the same time. Listeners will probably want to break
the experience up into smaller chunks, and Rochberg himself
would likely not have minded: he did in any case stipulate that
violinists may play any number of the Variations in any
order in performance. On the other hand, the Caprice Variations
are still 70 minutes shorter than Indian-born Swedish composer
Claude Allgén's incredible Solo Violin Sonata - see review
Sound quality is high as far as the Violin Sonata goes,
although Skærved does move about in his creaky chair a bit.
There is otherwise no indication that this is a live recording
- not a cough or rustle to be heard. The Caprice Variations
are not accompanied by any creaking, and the church acoustic
is atmospheric, but traffic noise is just audible through headphones,
and the microphones are a little close to Skærved to be considered
In his eleventh recording for Métier Skærved plays a fine 1734
Stradivarius, one of the last made by the Italian master. The
violinistic terrors that lurk within both the Sonata
and the very capricious Variations are, with few exceptions,
water off a duck's back to Skærved, who gives a very expressive,
technically assured performance of enormous strength, even if
he did wisely record the Variations over three days.
In a 1993 Nimbus release, guitarist Eliot Fisk recorded his
own version of Rochberg's Variations, fashioning them,
not entirely to Rochberg's liking, into eight suites with two
leftovers - see recent review.
Fisk sidestepped at least one of the 'problems' with this work,
the fact that it does not fit on a single CD. Art is not required
to take into consideration the technical caprices of the electronics
industry, and those who use a computer, iPod or some other modern
device to listen to their music will not be bothered by such
matters. As already mentioned, Rochberg allowed for abbreviated
performances, yet for posterity's sake at least, Skærved and
Métier served music lovers and especially violinists well by
recording all 50 variations and the paraphrase.
The CD booklet is glossy and very informative, with interesting
personal recollections by Skærved of his friendship with Rochberg
in his final years, though their sometimes rambling nature would
have benefited from tidying up by an editor.
In the final reckoning this is a quality release, and Métier
must be forgiven for re-issuing the Caprice Variations.
In fact, they should keep on doing it every few years until
the world starts taking more notice of George Rochberg's unique
contribution to music history.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk