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A small but dedicated audience braved the wretched weather to hear a satisfying and sophisticated violin recital in Watson Hall at the North Carolina School for the Arts. NCSA faculty violinist Kevin Lawrence chose a menu consisting of two audience-friendly sonatas by two notoriously individual Twentieth Century American composers, Henry Cowell (1897-1965) and Charles Ives (1874-1954), leavened by an elegant sonata by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), a top composer between the eras of Berlioz and Debussy. The violinist's accomplished accompanist was Peter Kairoff who kept his Steinway's lid on the short stick and carefully adjusted the dynamics to keep in perfect balance. Lowered acoustical curtains controlled hall reverberation perfectly.
Cowell's fearsome avant-guard reputation caused me to await the performance of his Sonata for Violin and Piano (1945) like bracing for a dentist to give a Novocain shot. What a shock to hear hymn-like tunes quoted much less country dances such as the jig! Both the opening "Hymn" movement and the third, "Ballad," suggest the sounds of Irish fiddle music. The vivacious fourth movement, "Jig," conjures up a hoedown as much as anything by Aaron Copland. Strummed low bass piano strings near the end of the Finale are the only echo of Cowell the wild innovator. Between the second decade of the 1900's until the 1940's, the composer had brazenly pushed the envelope, exploiting tone clusters, extreme rhythmic complexity, all elements from world music. Lawrence played with warm tone and excellent intonation while giving full value to Cowell's rainbow of timbres. Kairoff played the often complex and independent with great clarity.
Cowell was an apt companion for Charles Ives' Second Sonata (1914) since the younger composer was both a biographer and proponent of the "Yankee original." The first word that comes to mind to anyone familiar with Ives' works is "collage" because of his quoting of popular tunes and famously, old hymn tunes. To make the point perfectly clear, Lawrence had the audience stand and sing hymn #400: "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," which is quoted in the last of the three movements, "The Revival." The first movement, "Autumn," begins slowly, turning playful with independent writing for both instruments. A collage of popular tunes is suggested. "In the Barn" conjures up hoe-downs with country fiddlin' and an ever more frenzied pace. The "Revival" begins slowly and becomes faster as the violin takes up the hymn leading to a mad dash before ending with a reprise of the slower opening. Lawrence articulated the fast portions clearly and mimicked the timbre of folk fiddling beautifully. Kairoff met Ives' every challenge while never covering the violin's line.
Gabriel Fauré's First Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 13 served as a dessert to follow the adventuresome opening pieces. Balances between instruments were excellent. Lawrence's full and rich tone was deployed stylishly and closely matched by Kairoff's accompaniment.
This was a delightful recital and the duo's interpretation of the Cowell led me to order a CD from a well-known internet source. Faculty recitals are an opportunity to expand one's aesthetic horizons.