ANDREW VIOLETTE: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano – Ben Capps, cello/Moran Katz, clarinet/Andrew Violette, p. – Innova Records 832 (Distr. by Naxos), 78:36 ****:
Andrew Violette is described on his website as a bit of a “maverick” composer – especially when heard against the rest of the rest of the contemporary New York music scene. It is easy to see why. The massive (nearly an hour!) cello Sonata that begins this disc is sprawling, intense and one of the most difficult things to describe that I have heard.
This is not to say it is not a good piece. It has many, many good moments. It will also throw your stylistic compass off more than once. At the outset, the piano part alone will cause you to think, ‘Is this Liszt? Is it early Schoenberg? Scriabin?’ To listen to where this big work goes harmonically and structurally is nearly exhausting, but for most of the course it is worth the trip.
Violette, who trained at Juilliard with Carter and Sessions, among others is first a very proficient pianist (and you must be in these works). The promotional material from Violette and his publishers describe that the progress in the Sonata is analogous to that of a “drunken boat” near the “breakwaters of Death.” If one imagines the cello as a rather Ulysses-like figure taken on the long and very meandering journey of this piece, this analogy works well. The journey is eccentric and long but mostly rewarding. The Sonata works best when at its most ponderous and ominous – such as the amazing central movements (Marcia funebre, variations 1-20 and the Mournful Bells). It is a little weakened, in my opinion, by the Cha-Cha with Refrain movement. Ben Capps and the composer play very well and the work holds the attention. Its Wagnerian proportions make it just a little less than concise but the rapturous moments outweigh the lesser ones.
Violette’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano is – by comparison – a “miniature.” This light and very pretty work begins in a soaring way with an altissimo clarinet line and some delicate piano harmonies that are evocative of Delius and Parry. The first movement, Moderato, reminded me of some of the English sonatas such as those by Cooke, Arnold and Ireland. The second, Lento, retains the somewhat pastoral feel I got throughout but is weightier and stays just at the edge of a dirge with another soaring long line that is colored by minor block chords in the piano. The movement slows down, descends gradually and leaves a lovely but melancholic impression. The Allegro con Brio ends the work with a nice spritely finish that is engaging. This is a challenging work but mostly for its phrasing and tone. This whole Sonata did remind me a little bit of some of those many English clarinet masterworks; and that is a compliment.
This is a fascinating disc. Listening to the Cello Sonata and then the Clarinet Sonata does need lead to the conclusion that these came from the same composer. That makes Andrew Violette and his music all the more interesting. I had heard of him but not heard his work until now. I think that anyone would find something to admire and to be amazed by. The complexity and duration of the cello work is something to immerse yourself into while the Sonata for Clarinet is delicate and mannered. I am anxious to learn more about this fascinating composer and more of his music! [You can do that right here at his blog; and right, a most interesting composer…Ed.]
An excellent DG debut!