George Rochberg was among the most prolific, long-lived, and diverse of the American composers of his generation. Though he wrote extensively for the violin, his first (and only) violin sonata did not appear until quite late in the composer's life. The 1988 sonata is a tour de force of lofty technical demands and difficult-to-master interpretation that tests the mettle of any violin and piano duo that would attempt it. Five years earlier, Rochberg completed his massive set of 50 Caprice Variations in which Rochberg's own works, pieces by earlier composers, and even notions from literature and poetry are made the subject. That any composer could keep up such a task through 51 successive changes is amazing in and of itself; Rochberg's contribution is not just a technical exercise, though, and comes out as a completely accessible and entertaining listening experience. Performing these two works on this two-disc Metier album are close friends and collaborators of Rochberg, violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved and pianist Aaron Shorr. Just as the two programmed works are quite different, so, too, are the performance qualities offered. The violin sonata, recorded in a live performance, is quite shrill and forced. The recorded sound quality is dry and unforgiving, making technical flaws and intonation issues all the more noticeable. By contrast, the Caprice Variations are treated to a much warmer, full sound quality and more technically solid playing. Listeners interested in this music are encouraged to sample from the easily recommendable Caprice Variations first, and perhaps consider an alternate to this performance of the sonata.
AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2