Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin: Nos. 1, 10, 11. Violin Sonata,
Eric Pritchard (vn); Randall Love (pn)
MSR 1343 (68:21)
Texas-born composer Bill Robinson (b.1955) is new to me and I’m guessing to most readers as well, since this is the only album of his music I find listed, and all are world premiere recordings. In one respect, at least, Robinson shares something with Russian composer Alexander Borodin, for
after studying composition first at Phillips Academy Andover, then at the Eastman School of Music, and finally at the University of North Texas, where he earned a B.M. in 1984, he enrolled at North Carolina State University in 2001 to study physics. Earning his B.S. degree there in 2004, he remained at NCSU for the next six years doing advanced graduate work and constructing a novel plasma confinement experiment. Robinson differs from Borodin, I believe, in that for Robinson, music rather than science seems to be his primary pursuit, but I could be mistaken, for a visit to his website (billrobinsonmusic) reveals a man of many interests and activities. He is active in the study and practice of yoga, Hinduism, and mystical practices of many kinds, and is a devotee of Neem Karoli Baba. His website contains a link to his catalog of works as well as a good deal of personal information about his music, his scientific endeavors, and his spiritual beliefs.
Between 1979 and 2003, Robinson wrote 11 sonatas for unaccompanied violin, a medium that has produced some extraordinary music in the hands of Biber, Bach, Ysaÿe, and Reger. Yet nothing I’ve heard sounds quite like Robinson’s pieces. They’re by no means easy, but they’re not as thick with double-stops and chords as are other works of their type. Textures are leaner and there’s a greater emphasis on preserving the traditional role of the violin as a melody instrument. But here’s where the music becomes hard to describe, for there’s a primitivism to Robinson’s writing—and by primitive I don’t mean unsophisticated—that is spellbinding. The slow movements reverberate with an almost ancient chant-like melos, not of medieval church modes but of something more primordial. The fast movements, too, even though they’re deeply rooted in the physical motions of dance, seem to have an archaic, ritualistic quality. The first two unaccompanied sonatas on the disc (Nos. 1 and 10) are in three movements each, while the third sonata on the disc (No. 11) is in four movements. All movements, however, are quite short, the longest being 3:33.
The “Govinda” Sonata for violin and piano is a more extended work lasting just shy of 20 minutes and in three movements that, despite their fanciful titles, conform to a classically structured fast-slow-fast layout. Composed in 2006, the piece was originally written for flute and was reset for violin at the request of the CD’s violinist, Eric Pritchard. Govinda, according to the booklet note, is another name for Krishna, the supreme avatar of Hindu religions and the protagonist in the
. This explains the movement titles “Flavors of Devotion: Allegro bhagavata,” “Largo Govinda: Dark and Lonely,” and “Power and Light: Vivace shivaratri.”
I can’t say that listening to the piece put me in touch with any of my seven primary chakras, but the fact that it made a positive impression on me without having to read the
to understand it is testament to two things: (1) Robinson is capable of writing very beautiful music that can be listened to in the abstract without reference to extramusical contexts, and (2) the notion that music as an art form is capable of depicting concrete images or of expressing philosophical ideas is probably nonsense. Music speaks directly to the emotions; pictorial maps are not required for finding one’s way. The musical language of Robinson’s “Govinda” Sonata is one comprised of a late-Romantic/neoclassical vocabulary that reminds me a bit of Hindemith. This is a really gorgeous piece, and it is beautifully played by Pritchard and Randall Love.
The booklet note prefaces the
with one of those unforgettable “Bushisms” uttered by our 43rd president: “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” I had no idea what this had to do with the music until I read further that the third movement, titled “Slowest Waltz,” carries the subtitle “Where Wings Take Dream,” which, and I quote, “was drawn from the inspiring oratory of a fellow Texan in a 2000 presidential campaign speech in Wisconsin.” It’s not the only movement to have a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun. The tempo marking for the first movement,
, takes a swipe at a North Carolina classical music radio station (WCPE are its call letters) that according to Robinson “will not play music by living composers, frequently favoring low-quality 19th-century ballroom fare.”
The four dance movements that make up the piece were composed in 2008 as a string quartet but were reworked for violin and piano in 2009 for Eric Pritchard, who is a practitioner of Sufism and was given the spiritual name Ananda by his Sufi guide in 2004. The whole work from beginning to end is a sheer delight.
Pritchard has been a member of the Ciompi Quartet since 1995 and was formerly the first violinist of the Alexander and Oxford quartets. He and pianist Love play magnificently, and the recording, made in October 2009, in Duke University’s Baldwin Auditorium, is excellent. This is definitely recommended and well worth your consideration.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Govinda Sonata, for violin & piano by Bill Robinson
Eric Pritchard (Violin),
Randall Love (Piano)
Venue: Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University, Dur
Length: 19 Minutes 16 Secs.
Ananda Dances, for violin & piano by Bill Robinson
Randall Love (Piano),
Eric Pritchard (Violin)
Venue: Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University, Dur
Length: 24 Minutes 11 Secs.
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