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Nowhere on tonight’s program are the differences between violin and piano heard as distinctly as in Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. Ravel’s approach to writing for the duo was not to try to make them blend, but to enunciate their “incompatibility.” Ravel wrote the Sonata for Violin and Piano over the course of four years (1923-1927), relatively late in his career. The work is by turns elegant and quirky, and beautifully portrays each instrument’s toolbox of sounds.
The first movement, marked Allegretto, shows the composer’s old Impressionistic influences, though the music is now more sensuous and playful. Violin and piano trade back and forth, unaccompanied and the instruments join together for the end of the movement.
Movement two is a Blues marked Moderato. The pizzicato violin at the beginning sounds beautifully open and sonorous, and the piano rumbles out of key. The violin starts a galumphing, cabaret-like melody, ending with an effortless balletic leap. There’s a pause and restart; the piano accompanies with staccato chords that echo the violin’s pizzicato at the beginning. The music alters between bluesy lines and jarring repetitions from each character.
The finale, Perpetuum mobile: Allegro, displays nonstop virtuosity for the violin. The piano begins the movement, however, and there are a couple of fits and starts right away; the violin and piano repeat each other, with the violin playing sul ponticello for a moment before falling into a relentless and brilliant whirlwind of notes.
-Jessie Rothwell is a Los Angeles based writer, composer, and curator who also bakes pies and constantly considers what foods pair with what wines.