Cuckson and McMillen play Carter and More

Carter – Sessions – Eckardt

Miranda Cuckson, violin; Blair McMillen, piano

Urlicht Audiovisual CD

 

Violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Blair McMillen have already proven themselves an estimable duo for works by American Modernists such as Shapey and Martino. Their latest outing features Elliott Carter’s Duo for Violin and Piano (1973), a formidable piece written in the midst of Carter’s most compositionally rigorous period. And while the twosome emphasize the brittle, cutoff phrases that frequently appear in the work, they also do a deft job of pointing up the places in which violin lines melt into the resonance of piano chords (and vice versa). Thus, theirs is a rendition that juxtaposes rigor and grace, violence and gentleness; this versatility makes it one of my favorite outings with this piece I’ve thus far heard.

 

Composed in 1953, Sonata for solo violin is one of Roger Sessions’ first large-scale attempts at 12-tone composition. Clocking in at over thirty minutes, it is a bear of a piece, demanding both virtuosity and considerable thoughtfulness from the violinist to bring it off: Cuckson has both in spades. I particularly enjoy her traversal of the work’s last movement, a brisk “Alla Marcia” with incendiary passagework and double stops aplenty. Cuckson brings laser beam accuracy to the numerous tricky to tune passages.

 

Jason Eckardt wrote Strömkarl to complement the other pieces on this recording. It is based upon a Northern European legend of violin playing sprites who took up residence near waterfalls; depending on the rendering of the story, either charming passersby with music or leading them to drown. Eckardt captures this mischievous ambiguity with pixellated altissimo violin writing and brittle pizzicati; the piano is also given an angularly terse role to play. My money is on Eckardt’s image of the sprite being a wicked little beastie, but either way the piece is vividly characterful and a real workout for the performances; one they assay handily.

 

Xavier Montsalvatge – Madrigal (CD Review)

8.573101

Xavier Montsalvatge

Madrigal

Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; Tim Fain, violin, Sato Moughalian, flute; Blair McMillen, piano

Perspectives Ensemble, Angel Gil-Ordonez, conductor

Naxos CD

 

Catalan composer and music critic Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) created a stylistically varied and compelling body of work. The pieces here demonstrate his music’s abundant vitality, continual curiosity, and eloquence. In particular, the two vocal works, Madrigal sobre un tema popular, which teems with attractive folk dance rhythms, and 5 Invocaciones al Crucificado, an affecting meditation on Christ’s passion, are given standout performances by the extraordinarily talented mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke. Violinist Tim Fain supplies an energetic and adroit rendition of the solo part in the neoclassical work Concertino 1+13, and flutist Sato Moughalian and pianist Blair McMillen negotiate the more modernist environs of Serenata a Lydia de Cadaques with technical skill and thoughtful musicality. The Perspectives Ensemble, conducted by Angel Gil Ordonez, provides stalwart support throughout. The disc is an excellent snapshot of a composer whose perseverance during the repressive time of Franco’s regime yielded a great deal of memorable music.