American Classics - Dillon: Violin Music / Belen

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Quality music, quality performances, quality production. By coincidence, Bridge Records have recently released a disc of American composer Lawrence Dillon's chamber music. It’s entitled "Insects...
Quality music, quality performances, quality production.

By coincidence, Bridge Records have recently released a disc of American composer Lawrence Dillon's chamber music. It’s entitled "Insects and Paper Airplanes" and was warmly reviewed here. This release by Naxos brings his discography to four, following a 2002 chamber works volume on Albany Records (TROY 513) and another with voice, also on Albany (TROY1170).
The Naxos blurb says: "A love for lyricism, a dash of wit, and what he has called “an irresistible urge” to connect with the Classical music heritage have remained easily identifiable hallmarks of Dillon’s music." These words give a pretty accurate idea of what the potential listener can expect from this disc. Dillon does have a blog on Sequenza, a trendy American site which grandly bills itself as "The Contemporary Classical Music Community", but which leans heavily towards music that "refuses to be pigeon-holed": experimental-cum-crossover. But the nearest the music on this CD gets to that is the short 'duet' in Fifteen Minutes for violin with kazoo - otherwise this is an hour of music that is often profound without being pretentious, sometimes light-hearted but never 'lite', humorous without being arch, and immensely appealing but never frivolous. According to Naxos's usual formula, {American composer} always = {American Classics}, but sometimes there is more than a touch of prescience about such fundamentally commercial choices.
This CD also represents the debut recording of up-and-coming Mexican-American violinist Danielle Belén, who was Grand Prize winner at the 2008 Sphinx Competition. Her award charged her with choosing an American composer with the intention of recording his or her violin works - she chose Dillon. Her website, at the time of writing, features a YouTube video of her performing the Bacchus Chaconne. Her musicianship on this disc bristles with expressiveness, technical agility and considerable enthusiasm for Dillon's writing.
The recording covers 25 years of the composer's work. There are two pieces for solo violin, the brief and zippy Mister Blister and the quarter of an hour long Fifteen Minutes. The two are related in that they are in a way the same commission, one done right, one done wrong - the amusing story is in the notes! Fifteen Minutes - with a nod to Andy Warhol - is really 16 individual shorts moulded into a polystylistic and often technically challenging suite, which includes a variety turn on the kazoo.
There is one work for violin and marimba, Spring Passing, an atmospheric, nebulous elegy Dillon wrote by way of tribute to his father, who died when he was two; and one for violin and viola, the Bacchus Chaconne, which Dillon composed as a cathartic response to the very late cancellation of an almost-finished commission for a cello concerto. The work starts slowly and deliberately solemnly, all the better to contrast with the dancy, rock-inflected chaconne that follows, in which the soloists try to outplay each other, before the work ends, figuratively, in tears!
The remaining three works are all for violin and piano. The Voice is Dillon's melancholic, dramatic embellishment of a transcribed aria for an "unstable" soprano, from his own 2001 opera Buffa. Façade is one of Dillon's earliest works. In his own words, it takes "an 1890ish waltz, a pretty salon melody, and twists it through some increasingly irrational harmonic shifts until it shatters into inarticulate fragments. After a minute or two of stumbling about in confusion, it gradually reassembles itself into a fragile version of its former self." A lovely, sharp, innocuous piece, Dillon reports that it caused a bit of an uproar at its university premiere, with a "distinguished professor" instructing his students never to perform such a shockingly unmodernistic piece!
The final work is also the most important one: the Sonata, which started out as a flute sonata - indeed it was in that form that it received its premiere in 2005. Dillon adapted the work for Belén for this recording. Subtitled Motion, the intriguing titles of its three movements are: Motion/Emotion, Emotion/Commotion, and Commotion/Motion. According to Dillon, the movements explore the conflict implicit in the titles. The finale contains what he describes as a "whimsical tribute to early rock and roll", but that should not deter listeners: from beginning to end this is a fine, impassioned, attractive work, played alternately with great vigour and delicacy by both Belén and Australian pianist David Fung, one that deserves a place in the violin sonata repertoire.
Sound quality is excellent, with little difference between the church and studio venue, save the atmospheric resonance and barely audible background traffic of the former. The booklet notes are fairly detailed and interesting, and all biographies present and correct. Quality music, quality performances, quality production.
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: April 26, 2011

  • UPC: 636943964422

  • Catalog Number: 8559644

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Lawrence Dillon

  • Performer: Danielle Belén, David Fung, Juan-Miguel Hernandez, Stan Muncy