Roger Sessions Music for Violin and Piano – transitional classics

For me, this release works on many levels. First, it chronicles an important phase of Roger Session’s career when his style moved from neo-classical to embrace — however lightly — serialism. It also is an enjoyable listening experience, as pianist David Holzman and violinist David Bowlin perform together and separately, bring some variety to the program. And there’s a mix of well-known important work and some (relatively) light occasional pieces that provide some emotional balance.

The album opens with the 1942 Duo for violin and piano. It’s a work cast in a single movement of continual contrast. While the piece is highly chromatic, Sessions never quite crosses over into atonality.

By contrast, Sessions does cross that line in his Sonata for Violin written nine years later. It is indeed a twelve-tone work, but one that still borders on tonality. Bolin brings out the inherent lyricism in this sonata, smoothing out some of the spikiness of the piece, and showing just how close to line Sessions remains.

According to the composer, Sessions’ Second Piano Sonata was supposed to be “not only short by easy to play.” I think he missed on both counts (the work’s about 13 minutes long). Nevertheless, Holzman handles the dense, complex score with apparent ease. Two short piano pieces round out the program. The 1936 Waltz for Brenda is a delightful little piece written to commemorate the birth of a neighbor’s child (who was writer Brenda Webster), and a 1947 Adagio given as a retirement gift to a colleague.

The recording quality is very good, as are the performances. In fact, I really only had one quibble. This is a disc of solo and duo music for violin and piano. So why does the cover show Sessions conducting from a podium?

Roger Sessions: Music for Violin and Piano
David Holzman, piano; David Bowlin, violin
Bridge 9453

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