Kelly Hall-Tompkins

In My Own Voice

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South Carolina-born, New York-based violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins, with degrees from the Eastman School and the Manhattan School of Music, here offers a debut recital disc that proceeds from the familiar to the unusual. That's noteworthy in itself. Many African American musicians have performed works from the African American concert repertory, but to build toward a little-heard virtuoso work in a premiere recording takes confidence and control. That work, David Baker Jr.'s Ethnic Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1976), comes from the so-called Third Stream movement, which aimed to bridge the gap between jazz and classical traditions. That the composers associated with that movement underestimated the size of the gap doesn't mean that the effort itself was wasted, and indeed it's more needed now than ever. Baker's piece is one of the great crowd pleasers of the Third Stream, with all the resources of the violin deployed in realizations less of jazz than of African-American popular rhythms like "Heavy Rhythm and Blues" (track 14). The level of sheer virtuosity associated with Paganini is retained in diverting ways, and Hall-Tompkins plays with obvious enthusiasm. The Baker work is effectively introduced by William Grant Still's Summerland, a short lyrical work mixing jazz and blues harmonies with Romantic conventions. Prior to that, the program has more of feel of a school recital, with performances of virtuoso standards that are convincing in themselves but that don't quite fit together. The lurch from the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004, to Saint-Saëns' Fantasy in A major for Violin and Harp, Op. 124, is particularly striking, and the booklet notes, of the standard composer-biography-plus-notes-on-the-individual-work type, point up the fact that the program isn't a coherent whole. Technically everything's solid, however, and in her capacity for taking chances on unfamiliar material, Hall-Tompkins serves notice that she's a young violinist to be watched.

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