Review: Daniel Lippel – Sonata by Andrew Violette


Andrew Violette: Sonata for Guitar
Played by Dan Lippel
New Focus Recordings
Release Date: July 8, 2014
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This album presents one piece: an hour long Sonata for Guitar by Andrew Violette. That is quite the undertaking by guitarist Dan Lippel. Just imagine emerging yourself in one piece, not only learning it but also recording it. The determination of both the composer and the guitarist really sparked my interest. New york born composer Andrew Violette studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions and has been quoted as “an unsung maverick among New York composers” (New Yorker).

For this work Violette pays homage to Britten and Bach as well as Rodrigo and explores counterpoint and color while focusing on singable melody. As for the form, as the composer explains, “Why is the piece so long? The piece is long because I’m interested in thematic development. Thematic development takes time. Time I must have to wrench every last inflection from every last motif I put out there. I develop my material the usual classical ways: by counterpoint, texture, harmony and over-all form.” The result is a tapestry of expansive movements that curiously keep you listening. Some general listeners may zone-out but I suggest giving the work a careful but relaxed listen and let the composition take you on a thematic ride (if you have an hour to spare!).

The recording breaks the Sonata into two tracks: Track 1 (33:02), I. Moderato, II. Colorfield and Track 2 (29:32), I. Intermezzo, II. Fuga a 3 voci: Homage to Joaquin Rodrigo, III. Chaconne after Britten (Andante), IV. Lullaby. The music is thick with counterpoint yet singable as the composer suggests. I’m not sure who I would compare it to, maybe Hans Werner Henze and Britten if I had to make a comparison but Violette is more expansive and freer in form and language than Henze. Here’s a little synopsis of the work by New Focus:

After an expansive “Moderato” covering wide harmonic ground, the work narrows into a 25 minute “Colorfield” movement, inspired by the mid-century school of abstract American painting. The music meditates on one harmony, subtly shifting accents and syntax to produce similar lines with different semantic and metric meaning. A short and lyrical “Intermezzo” breaks the piece in half, before a three voice fugue whose quick, three note motive pays homage to the music of Joaquin Rodrigo, reminiscent as it is of castanets. The “Chaconne” that follows is the most direct reference to Britten’s epic passacaglia that closes the Nocturnal, and a lilting “Lullaby” closes the hour long sonata with a similarly focused treatment of material as the “Colorfield.”

The guitar playing is impressive mainly for Lippel’s focus and rhythmic drive due to the massive scope of the work. The piece does not let up in terms of playing. There is little in the way of guitar effects or fluffy textures. The first track is straight forward playing of notes in a texture of counterpoint and continuous movement which Lippel executes with focus and determination. The second track has moments of more space and variety in texture. Lippel also showcases some excellent motivic clarity and some pleasant coloristic touches.

Recording quality is good overall. It’s a bit on the ‘live’ side but I somewhat prefer that to the modern beefy sound of close mics. Regardless, it sounds like you are sitting close by in reverberant room and all the colors as well as articulations of the guitar are clear.

A huge undertaking by composer and guitarist! Andrew Violette’s work is impressively realized by Dan Lippel’s determined and focused guitar performance. From expansive movements thick with counterpoint to singable melodic work there is something for everyone in this modern but relatable work. Not to be overlooked.

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