Rochberg Reviews

Posted on May 2nd, 2011 by

George Rochberg: Violin Sonata – Caprice Variations
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin), Aaron Shorr (piano)
Recorded at St. John’s Church, Loughton, Essex, England (28 & 30 August, 2000) – Violin Sonata; live at the Steve and Judy Turner Recital Hall, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA (23 February, 2004) – Caprice Variations. – 63’17 [CD1]; 52’52 [CD2]
Metier Records #msv28521 – Booklet in English
Metier continues its faithful dedication to contemporary music by adding this remarkable release to its already abundant collection. The double-disc release is devoted to the American composer George Rochberg’s (1918-2005) two violin works – the Violin Sonata for violin and piano, and the Caprice Variations for solo violin, previously issued under the same label in 2003.

Rochberg is a composer who embraces a broad spectrum of compositional styles and genres throughout his long span of musical career. Plunged into Schoenbergian serialism in his early years, Rochberg, after the death of his son in 1964, discarded the technique and turned to a musical language that mixed abstract chromaticism with tonal idioms. The Violin Sonata, written in 1988, is a telling exemplification of his late style. The profound emotional expression in all four movements is characterized by the constant employment of atonality and tonal variety.

The Caprice Variations, in which Rochberg masterfully blends Modernist and Classical elements, is a beguiling, if not bemusing, composition. The one-and-a-half-hour long solo violin work begins with a theme that incorporates traditional tonal harmony in the manner of Bach’s solo violin partita – diatonic sequences, balanced phrases, and perfect cadences. Musical humor continues by the composer echoing the styles of our great predecessors such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and Mahler – some more tacitly, some more overtly. Apart from appreciating Rochberg’s musical humor and wisdom, one may well wish to treat the variations as an entertaining test of musicianship while listening.

The marvelous recording quality captures both the music’s refined details and the sense of ample space. The informative booklet, written mainly by the violinist himself, devotes its central focus to the portrait of the composer’s personality and aesthetic philosophy. Being a long-term musical collaborator and an intimate comrade of the composer, Skærved would be the ideal one to take up the job. Not only is the general description of the performer’s rehearsing and recording procedures included, the booklet also encompasses some interesting and thought-provoking conversations between the musicians that enable the readers to have a better understanding on both the composer’s compositional process and the performer’s reception towards the music. I would have welcomed some more detailed information on the composer’s general compositional style(s) and the analytical commentary of the two works in this album so that less experienced listeners could also be benefited.

After all, an outstanding recording that provides wonderful listening experiences.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui