Ben Capps / Moran Katz

Andrew Violette: Sonatas for Cello & Clarinet

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New York-based composer Andrew Violette has written some extremely unusual works, including a piano sonata that clocks in at two and a half hours and is performed without a break. The cello and clarinet sonatas heard here are quite a bit more conventional (and shorter), but they still fall into an experimental and somewhat mystical strain of music that appeared in different places and times in the 20th century but still seems linked together. Although the two pieces were both composed in 2011, the Sonata for cello and piano is more novel. It is in eight movements, each of which exists independently, yet which all develop a common idea: a melodic cello part around which a piano weaves its own independent, dissonant world. The effect is something like what you might imagine could have happened if Charles Ives had had Parisian training, or if he'd somehow continued composing after the 1920s and met up with Messiaen. The structure of the eight movements has yet other dimensions, including a set of funeral-march variations divided in two by the longest movement, an evocation of "mournful bells." The Sonata for clarinet and piano takes off more explicitly from French neo-classicism, with a closer contrapuntal balance between the two parts and a more conventional three-movement structure (but good luck reading the names of the movements, obscured as much as possible by really ghastly graphic design). This music seems at once individualistic and closely linked to traditions of the past, and it makes you want to hear more from its composer.

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