VIOLINGUISTICS—AMERICAN VOICES • Scott Conklin (vn); Alan Huckleberry (pn) • ALBANY TROY 1138 (62:59)
BEAVERS Violin Sonata. BOLCOM The Graceful Ghost. HU Snow Ash. SHENG The Stream Flows. PUCKETT Colloquial Threads. Read more class="COMPOSER12">PUTS Aria
Scott Conklin and Alan Huckleberry recorded their anthology of “American Voices” in June 2008, just before the Clapp Recital Hall of the University of Iowa would be evacuated after a “500-year flood.” Their program opens with Kevin Beavers’s eclectic four-movement Sonata. Beavers, in his own booklet notes, traces the Sonata to the influence of his teacher at the University of Michigan, William Bolcom; according to Beavers, it represents “musical instincts and gut feelings” rather than “preconceptions or detailed planning.” Its four movements, “Intense and Aggressive,” “Groové,” “Spirited and Explosive,” and “Delicate,” synthesize musical styles as diverse as blues and Brahms, peppering the basically tonal harmonic ambiance (strongest perhaps in the second movement and weakest in the third) with jagged dissonances. Conklin and Huckleberry explore this protean Sonata inventively, allowing shifts in sensibilities that range from quasi-mystical to straightforwardly energetic. In all, the combined Sonata and performance seems a tour de force that cries out for both repeated performances and repeated hearings.
William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost appeared in Gil Shaham’s Halloween program (“Devil’s Dance,” Deutsche Grammophon 463 483, 24: 3), and in Renata Artman Knific and Lori Sims’s recital of Bolcom’s sonatas on MSR 1197, 31:3; but Conklin and Huckleberry play it with a cheeky impudence that seems to fit it as a glove fits a hand. They adjust their approach for Ching-Chu Hu’s atmospheric Snow Ash, originally written, according to Gregory Marion’s booklet note, as two movements of a suite, Glaciers Red: Vistas Veiled.
The booklet points out the irony of including Bright Sheng’s two-movement work for solo violin, The Stream Flows, in this post-diluvial recital. Its first movement represents a meditation much in the reflective vein of Hu’s work, and the second returns to this mood after a vigorous opening. Both movements seem to be assembled largely from Chinese melodic patterns.
Joel Puckett’s Coloquial Threads, its four movements limning various aspects of Southern life, “Faulkner,” “Football and the Lord,” “Lamentation,” and “Mint Julep,” wanders farthest from traditional tonality—and traditional violinistic patterns. The first movement’s massive textures give way to frenetic activity and a reminiscence of hymn tunes in the second, to eerie timbral musings in the third, and finally to a spiky activity couched in more centered harmonies that purportedly capture the “hysteria” of the Kentucky Derby.
Kevin Puts’s Aria, adapted from his work for solo violin, Arches, and intended, according to the composer, as a stand-alone encore piece, offers perhaps the most lyrical moments in the program.
Throughout, Conklin and Huckleberry adapt themselves, technically and musically, not only to the shifting styles within individual compositions, but also to the varied styles of the composers themselves. The engineers represented them in first-rate, balanced, and lively recorded sound. If these American voices predominate through the next generation, we have reason to hope for a resurgence of music for the violin that’s interesting, idiomatic, and accessible. Urgently recommended.