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The Naxos CD, “William Bolcom: Violin Sonatas,” contains all four
of his works in this category, to date. Bolcom (1938- ) composed
his first Violin Sonata in 1956, and revised it about 30 years later.
The first movement of the piece has a very demanding piano part.
Although of a modern idiom, this Sonata is a tonal work with
Blues touches in the second movement. The introduction to the
third movement is diatonic, and this movement is very “folksy.”
The following sound variations range from “Americana” to
severely chromatic styles. This is an American work, through
and through.

Bolcom begins his second Violin Sonata with an ambling,
syncopated rhythm, with the violinist playing a Blues-inspired
tune above it. The second movement provides an intense, jarring
contrast with the beginning of the piece, and is followed by an
Adagio movement. The Sonata concludes with an incorporation
of Jazz styles, in the manner of violinist Joe Venuti (1903-1978).
Bolcom was inspired by this late musician, and dedicated this
last movement to him. I found the Sonata to be both
accomplished and appealing.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (1961- ) gave the world premiere
performance of Bolcom’s third Violin Sonata. It was composed
in 1993, with her in mind. A lengthy, improvisational introduction
precedes the main section of the first movement. The diatonic,
American vein of the Andante second movement almost reminds
me of the works of Charles Ives (1874-1954). A fleeting Scherzo
comprises the one-minute third movement, leading directly into
the final fourth movement. Bolcom wrote the liner notes for
this disc, and described this movement as having aspects of the
Tango. Here, the piano accompaniment provides the Tango
ground rhythm, while the violinist freely improvises above it.

The fourth Violin Sonata was composed the following year, and
is also in four movements. However, it is the shortest one of
the group. It’s important to mention that all four Violin Sonatas
feature the piano as much as the violin.

This well-recorded disc has fine performances by violinist
Solomia Soroka and pianist Arthur Greene, earning deserved
praise from the composer. These pieces are rather accessible
and distinctly modern. They could only have been written by
an American!

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