Bolcom Violin Sonatas

A superb duo exploiting Bolcom’s fondness for the fiddle

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

Bolcom Violin Sonatas

  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No 1
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No 3 (Sonata Stramba)
  • Sonata for Violin and Piano No 4

William Bolcom has been doing well on CD, thanks largely to Naxos – and he deserves to, as his massive Songs of Innocence and of Experience and more intimate ‘Songs’ with Carole Farley (both 7/05), abundantly showed. These four violin and piano sonatas cover a period of almost 40 years. Bolcom gave up violin lessons with relief at the age of about 10 when his instrument was stolen from his father’s car, but he has retained a strong affection for the fiddle and the sonatas represent his more serious side rather than the rumbustious ragtimer.

The First Sonata comes from 1956, Bolcom’s freshman year at the University of Washington, Seattle, but was revised later. I thought I recognised the flowing melody of Milhaud but Bolcom studied with him after that. The Second Sonata arose 20 years later, after he met jazz violinist Joe Venuti, and it was completed in memoriam. In the first movement the violin sings in a gentle bluesy manner over regular patterns in the piano: ‘Brutal’, which follows, is as tough as anything in Ives. There are conventional triads in both the last two movements and the whole piece affectionately recalls some of Venuti’s own licks.

The other two sonatas come from the mid-1990s. The Third is subtitled Stamba (‘Weird’) and, admittedly, you never quite know what is going to happen next. A mini-scherzo is a scrap of tarantella, then the finale fuses tangos and Arab music,. The last one is another virtuoso piece, at times hyperactive, where everything is confidently delivered by this brilliant duo.

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