William Bolcom Violin Sonatas

0 of 5 stars

Sonatas for Violin and Piano:
First Sonata
Second Sonata
Third Sonata (Sonata Stramba)
Fourth Sonata

Solomia Soroka (violin) & Arthur Greene (piano)

Recorded from 24 to 27 January 2005 in the Britton Recital Hall, School of Music, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2006
CD No: NAXOS 8.559150
Duration: 77 minutes

Naxos is doing William Bolcom proud! One of the most intriguing aspects of his composing art is the ease with which seemingly disparate material is introduced and the integrity with which it is made part of the whole. The opening movement of the First Sonata (1956/84) is an example; from the exploratory ‘serious’ and lyrical introduction comes a propulsive folk-music-like episode that suggests a Scottish reel in its energetic rhythms and which grows fairly crackles off the page. This is also a fine introduction to the skills and teamwork of Solomia Soroka and Arthur Greene. This arresting first movement is followed by a restless ‘Nocturne’ and, then, a sweet melody (somewhat suggesting a Beethoven bagatelle) that begins a movement described as ‘Quasi-Variations: Scenes From A Young Life’; always intriguing.

Second Sonata (1978) links Sergiu Luca and Joe Venuti and is a wide-ranging work – from ‘Summer Dreams’ (attractively ‘lazy’) to ‘Brutal, fast’ (hard, percussive) with an intense ‘Adagio’ following and then an affectionate Venuti tribute, one not with eruptive aspects.

Even Bolcom himself thinks the 1993 Third Sonata is “weird” (stramba). It is partly an invocation of Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg’s “dramatic, passionate personality”. A terrifically fiery first movement, not without reflection, is followed by a heart-warming Andante leading to a scherzo that arrives ‘like a shiver’, which darts hither and dither, and which prefaces a not-quite-definable movement sitting, somewhere, between Piazzolla and Arabic music – that’s what the composer says about the finale, and his description seems spot on!

Third Sonata is a compelling work, maybe ‘tantalising’ is better, so too the following year’s Fourth Sonata, a compact and brilliant piece that includes a knock-on-wood ‘Arabesque’. Throughout, Soroka and Greene are splendid advocates for this individual music – cleanly recorded and well-balanced, and no doubt with the composer in attendance; he has written the booklet notes.

It’s good to have these works on a single disc (the pianist-composer and Paul Kantor have recorded the First Sonata for Equilibrium) and although the Naxos release is “complete” that doesn’t mean to say that the ever-active and -inventive Bolcom (born 1938) isn’t planning a Fifth Sonata.

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