David Gompper and Wolfgang David

This past spring, I had the privilege of singing with Kantorei in a concert of David Gompper’s music. His music has many qualities that keep the listener engaged. Thus, I was looking forward to his recital with guest violinist, Wolfgang David.

The recital was held in the Old Capitol’s Senate Chamber, an appropriate setting for an intimate recital. David Gompper and Wolfgang David have played in such venues, to be sure. They have played over one hundred concerts together since they first met in 2000. Laurence Vittes of Gramophone  wrote that “their working relationship is as close and meaningful as Brahms had with Joachim.”

The recital began with Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 1, a great opening piece. The passionate melody in the violin gives the rhapsody its unique, Hungarian feel. Leaping from note to note in what seems like a sporadic pattern, the music is written in such a way that it sounds improvised. Wolfgang David teased the audience a bit in the second movement of the rhapsody, playfully making eye contact with us during a lull in the music. The piano part is complimentary to the violin, but it could be an entire work on its own. Bartók’s characteristic, dance-like themes in the piano accompaniment propel the piece forward and enhance the improvisatory feature in the violin.

Following Bartók’s rhapsody was a work by Jeremy Dale Roberts entitled, Tristia: Six lyric pieces for violin and piano. The first piece, Appassionato- with elan, sets the lamenting tone for the work. The violin carries a haunting melody, and the piano creates a mysterious affect with its quick, rhythmic patterns that scatter to the upper range of the piano. David Gompper further enhanced this feature by holding the pedal and letting the different pitches conglomerate at the ends of phrases. The following movements continued to paint the affects suggested by their titles: Semplice; feroce, Frozen, Presto; still, Acuto, and Andante lugubre – alla barcarolla. Frozen was the most striking of these pieces. The opening cluster chords in the piano are sharp, and they echo through the rests while the violin plucks over the top of the piano. In Frozen, the rests speak as much as the notes do, and this created a feeling a being stuck- of being frozen. The last piece, Andante lugubre, is as its French title suggests: grim. The low bass part in the piano creates a sense of foreboding, while the tremolo in the violin leaves the listener unsettled. All six of these pieces are cleverly crafted, evoking various moods.

The third work of the program was Morton Feldman’s Spring of Chosroes. On his website, Wolfgang David provides a program note by Gregory Marion, Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Saskatchewan:  http://www.wolfgangdavid.com/violinist/notes/feldman.php. The piece is a dialogue between the violin and the piano, depicting the story of Prince Chosroes and a legendary carpet that was woven during his reign. An interesting feature of the piece was the high, soft violin part. It seemed to be without a melody at times, answering to what has happening in the piano.

After a brief intermission, the recital was finished with three Irish fiddle tunes, composed by David Gompper: Finnegan’s Wake, Music in the Glen, and Star of the County Down. Gompper introduced the pieces, lightly commenting that they represent the “middle period” of his composition life. The pieces were written at different times, the first in 1997, the second in 2004, and the last in 2005. Gompper also commented that this recital was the first time these three pieces have been programmed together. Each piece was a foot-stomper with an Irish flare. The rhythmic manipulations and modern harmonies gave the familiar tunes new attitudes. For me, these three pieces were the highlight of the recital. Detailed program notes for these three pieces can also be found on Wolfgang David’s website.

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