I once again find myself in the super-privileged position to be able to be invited to listen to, review and share with you some wonderful music written for our wonderful instrument.
This week I’ve been listening to the very first recording of a work by an American contemporary composer I’ll admit to being completely unfamiliar with, Andrew Violette. This work is his Sonata for Guitar written in 1997 and what an epic it is! The fact that has remained, until now, unrecorded is no slight on the music – it’s a very interesting, well thought out, exploration of harmony and melody. I would imagine it is because it clocks in at just a couple of minutes over the 1 hour mark – that’s a heck of an undertaking for a solo guitarist when we normally see 20 to 25 minutes as a lengthy piece of work!
The guitarist that committed to taking on and recording this mammoth work (and I am so glad that he did) is US guitarist Daniel Lippel. Lippel recorded and released the Sonata through his own label New Focus Recordings (co-founded with compose Peter Gilbert in 2004 to release recordings with maximum creative control). To date Lippel’s recordings have garnered him critical acclaim from Gramophone, American Record Guide, Classical Review of North America, American Record Guide, Guitar Review, Music Web International, Sequenza21, and several other publications.
The Sonata, inspired by the hazy memories of being enthralled by Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal and making thematic references to that piece, is divided into six movements:
(1) Moderato – setting the melodic and harmonic outlines for the piece. There are some beautiful melodic lines in this movement, some beautiful musical shapes, that I could imagine singing. Rhythmically, like the rest of movements in the piece, this is very straightforward with the interest very much coming from the melodic shapes and treatment of the harmonies – a harmonic rhythm if you will – and interweaving of lines.
(2) Colorfield – my joint favourite of the movements, which surprised me when I read that it was all based on the one harmony. 25 minutes of the one harmony. “Hmmm interesting” I thought and interesting listening it certainly is. This is all about meditating on one musical colour, really understanding and getting to grips with what can be achieved with just one part of the palette, a true musical exploration. In Violette’s words it makes use of “subtly shifting accents and syntax to produce similar lines with different semantic and metric meaning“. Spellbinding.
(3) Intermezzo – This lush and beguiling little Intermezzo opens the second half of the sonata and re-introduces harmonic movement, which is gently refreshing on the ear following the hypnotic harmony of the Colourfield, before moving on quickly into the Fuga.
(4) Fuga a 3 voci: Homage to Joaquin Rodrigo – my other joint favourite movement. We still hear the same harmonic and melodic themes here, but the Spanish elements reminiscent of Rodrigo add a spicy flavour and new aural twist to material we’ve experienced to date. A really nice nod to the type of material that sits so well on the instrument too. Possibly the most guitaristic of the movements.
(5) Chaconne after Britten (Andante) – The penultimate movement references the Passcaglia from Britten’s Nocturnal, and makes use of some very beautiful melodic lines that sing so well on the guitar. Actually I retract my statement above about the Fuga being the most guitaristic of the movements – this is highly guitaristic music and would have to be next in line in order of preference of the movements. Wonderful stuff.
(6) Lullaby – I love the hypnotic feel of the descending thematic material with supporting background arpeggios, and final ascending and descnding harmonics lulling you into a dream world, in a spellbinding fashion reminiscent of the Colourfield. A wonderful way to end the piece.
Just one tiny thing mars the recording a little for me – I think perhaps also having each movement of the Sonata as a separate track , for me personally, would allow a great accessibility to the piece and explore each movement in isolation. Just a suggestion however, but perhaps not what Lippel nor Violette intended for the listener. In that case, perhaps time indications of where each movement begins?
Anyway, this is all just very minor stuff and these things aside this is a simply marvellous demonstration of some masterful playing, sensitive to the subtle nuances of the music wending and winding its way, developing over time through the various movements. It is also a marvellous recorded debut of what is a fantastic (and epic!) piece of the modern repertoire that undoubtedly deserves to be heard far and wide. Hats off to both Lippel and Violette!
Be sure to check it out for yourself. Head on over to the New Focus Recordings website where you can download the album for the very low price of just USD$8.99 – a bargain!
Alternatively, you can also download through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/sg/album/andrew-violette-sonata-for/id890025619