Colleagues, friends, and family came in from the brisk winter air and congregated in the newly-renovated Baldwin Auditorium. Among those prospective listeners was the composer and physicist Dr. Bill Robinson, dressed in his pastel, rainbow-colored tuxedo. Robinson stationed himself in the balcony as friends waved, embraced, and chatted in anticipation of a faculty recital. Professor Eric Pritchard and guest pianist Greg McCallum took the stage and began the deliciously selected program that featured works by Debussy, Robinson, and Grieg.
The duo opened with Claude Debussy's Sonata for Violin and Piano (1917). The warmth of Pritchard’s first note wrapped me like a down coat of great art. He performed with the power and sweetness that I love most about his playing. Greg McCallum, a pianist with deep understanding of the French composers, played with matching expertise. Like peeking in the closet of Coco Chanel, the duo revealed every detail of the essence of Debussy's color, flow, and emotion. My only regret was technical. I wished that Pritchard's bow had a little more bounce for the off-the-string passages, a point that I confess stems from unrealistic expectations. Otherwise, the artists performed this relatively short but exquisite composition with near perfection, making me yearn for more.
Pritchard, a champion of new music, introduced a recently penned triptych by composer, Bill Robinson (b.1955), Three Pieces for Violin and Piano (2014). Interestingly, Robinson's pieces could have been written with thread from the same dye-lot as Debussy's. They are beautiful, with moments of tenderness and exuberant, frenetic sound. But I heard nothing earth-shaking, nor did the composition seem to ask for new or interesting technique. I was disappointed that one hundred years after Debussy, Robinson had not moved the ball forward, as he is such a talented, prolific composer. Yet the performance spoke to the audience, who offered more than polite applause. Pritchard and McCallum played with meticulous aplomb and the composer looked pleased. Will a recording follow?
After a brief intermission, the recital was resumed with Edvard Grieg's stunning Sonata No.3 in C minor, Op. 45 (1886). Once more, Pritchard introduced the piece from the stage saying, "It is another favorite of ours." Grieg's composition is written in three movements, the outer movements fast and the middle less so ("Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza"). It is a romantic work, one less frequently performed, and it became abundantly clear that the artists love to play it. After this performance, I'm certain that many of the audience members will be scouring the Internet for recordings.* But short of another live performance, none of us will hear music that will quite match up. McCallum and Pritchard have the magical chemistry, the secret to high-level performance. We are so fortunate to have such wonderful players among us who so graciously share their gifts with us each year. On behalf of the concert-going community and new friends, thank you.
*Editor's Note: The famous recording by Kreisler and Rachmaninoff, c.1928, is available from Naxos overseas.