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Violette: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 7

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Album Review

It is difficult to evaluate a work of colossal dimensions without being influenced (or impressed) by its gigantism. Andrew Violette's seventh piano sonata, Piano Sonatas 1 & 7, clocks in at four minutes under three hours. To say that all of its notes are essential to its existence would be a lie; the piece has overlong passages, but in the end they don't mar the listening experience enough to condemn it. And one must admit that Violette's choice of architecture is brilliant. Sticking to the sonata's structure of themes, variations, and recapitulations, he juggles with a rather limited number of themes he sends through numerous transformations and recombinations (the bass pattern of one reappearing alongside the clusters of another, for example) in a dizzying way. The piece consists of 26 movements varying in length from 43 seconds to 27 minutes, the longest, "The Song Revisited (In 20 Panels)," sitting in the middle of the work. Violette's approach is essentially minimalist (and through the series of theme recaps once is reminded of Philip Glass' "Einstein on the Beach," although Violette's music never gets that cold or mechanistic), but he also borrows from serialism, romanticism, impressionism, new complexity, and so forth. Debussy, Satie, Beethoven, Liszt, and Feldman all played a role in the gestation of the piece, it seems. In fact, Violette gives the impression of tapping into his inner experience of piano music and distillating its ersatz, blending all influences regardless of styles and eras. The opening "Adagio I," painfully slow, is imbued with an unmatched majesty. On the other hand, the two "Colorfield" movements are among the weakest, rehashing the same ideas for way too long. Violette's performance conjures up a wide range of emotions and is expressive enough to keep the listener's attention for most of the duration (although you better be ready for a long séance). The addition of the 15-minute "Sonata 1" at the end of disc three was unnecessary. By then, the listener simply has no energy left to compare the alpha with the omega. ~ François Couture, Rovi

Violette: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 7, Andrew Violette
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