I first met the pianist Ivan Sokolov in Seattle during the Seattle Chamber Players 2004 Icebreaker II: Baltic Voices Festival. After three days of intensive concerts and symposia, we met at the home of Elena Dubinets, the renowned Russian musicologist, to read through the Shostakovich Viola Sonata, a remarkable work that is inspired in mood and motif by Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. After we finished, Ivan exclaimed that he would like to compose his own Solnechnaya (Sunlight) Sonata for Violin and Piano. We premiered Ivan’s new composition on the Washington Composers Forum’s TransMagiNations program in 2005.
Our inspiration to record both violin and viola sonatas of Sokolov came during our rehearsals in Seattle in February 2007. Both works share similar opening motifs and complement each other beautifully. We chose to record on a 2006 F212 grand piano by Paolo Fazioli, whose special resonance and cantabile characteristics allow the aural qualities of the violin and piano to meld. The result is an unusual combination of instruments, repertoire and soundscape.
amberwood also includes the charming Tango Orientale for Viola and Piano by the Swedish composer Ole Saxe. I have performed this piece on numerous occasions with cello or piano as well as alongside a tango band. To complete the recording, we commissioned and premiered in March 2007, Jan Vičar’s Uspávanky /Lullabies. In the current recording we placed Uspávanky in front of Sokolov’s Solnechnaya Sonata to create a cycle from sunset to sunrise.
Shoal Creek, the setting for our recording session, is nestled amongst Southern woods of pine, dogwood and cherry. At sunset the woods take on an amber glow, and the light permeates as a kaleidoscope of shadows and accents that mirror the bass resonance of the piano, the mellow hues of the viola, and the bright timbres of the violin. And in this interaction of light and sound, wood and ivory we found the inspiration for our musical offering – amberwood.
-Karen Bentley Pollick
Karen Bentley Pollick pursues a unique career as a violinist, violist, conductor and pianist. Ms. Pollick has several recordings of original music, including Electric Diamond, Angel, Konzerto and Succubus, Ariel View and Dancing Suite to Suite.
Ms. Pollick has toured with the New York Philharmonic, Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, the Bolshoi Ballet, and Barbra Streisand; she has recorded with the Dave Matthews Band and Evanescence, as well as recording numerous film scores. She is currently the violinist in Paul Dresher’s Electro-Acoustic Band, which performed at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall as part of the In Your Ear Festival, hosted by John Adams. Ms. Pollick currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama. For more information: www.kbentley.com
Sonata for Viola and Piano (2006), along with the 2002 cello and 2005 violin sonatas, form a triad of works, united by a similar opening motif. The viola sonata can be seen as an interlude between the violin and cello sonatas – the midway point between the two other members of a string trio. This one-movement sonata is comprised of four sections resembling the construction of a sonata or symphony cycle. The agitated opening Allegro is followed by a nocturne; the impetuous finale is preceded by a short scherzo link. Each section concludes with a funereal iteration of the beginning theme before its transcendental transformation. Perhaps it is possible to find some light irony or melancholic smile in the concept. Or perhaps it’s absolutely serious music. I don’t know…
The Sonata is dedicated to the violist Carol Allen – a friend of many years.
Solnechnaya Sonata for Violin and Piano was written in August 2005. The first movement, a sonata form, Allegro moderato in E minor, is filled with a lyric-epic atmosphere and impressions from the beauty of Russian nature. While working on it, I was listening to Russian music and especially Alexander Glazunov’s Karelian Legend (op. 99, 1916). The second movement Andante is in a pastoral, contemplative mood – with a kinship to the symphonic music by Vassily Kalinnikov, suggestive of memories of respite in the open air. In the middle section there appears an image of a wide river, smoothly bearing its waters. In the recapitulation, you can hear a bird singing.
This birdsong comes closer to us in the third movement, Scherzo, and we look at it as if through an “ear microscope”. The finale, Allegro vivace, and the dramaturgical center of the sonata, is cast in a rondo form. It has only one theme, but some images from the previous movements are reflected and reach their conclusions in this finale. After a lyrical development, the music gradually becomes brighter and ends with a coda in E Major, which is reminiscent of a burst of sunlight. The entire piece is named for this coda – the Solnechnaya (Sunlight) Sonata. I am grateful to the wonderful violinist Karen Bentley Pollick for her request to write this music and for agreeing to perform it.
Ivan Sokolov graduated as pianist and composer from the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory. An extraordinary and inspired performer of baroque, classical and romantic music, Mr. Sokolov is one of the major Russian artists committed to the contemporary music world. Since 1979, Mr. Sokolov has performed as a soloist throughout the former Soviet Union and Europe.
Mr. Sokolov’s own works include pieces for piano, violin, piano trio, orchestra, as well as a mini-opera. In his music, Sokolov experiments with different types of musical expression, including cryptophonic encodings, graphic notational experiments and truly romantic styles. For more information: www.obst-music.com/artists/sokolov.htm
Tango Orientale for Viola and Piano (2001) was originally written for clarinet and piano. In this work, the multicultural influences of the tango tradition seek out their roots from the Orient. The Andalusian scale is reminiscent of the Moorian occupation of Spain that left Andalusia with a rich inheritance of music and art. Ages later, this musical influence would inspire Latin American music. When the clarinet version of Tango Orientale toured South America with Kjell Fagéus and his sextet, it found its way to Argentina, the homeland of tango.
Ole Saxe was born in April 1952 in Copenhagen, and has lived in Sweden since 1973. As a composer he has recorded three albums of relaxation music, as well as four musicals. In 2000, Saxe composed Dance Suite, a contemporary collection of dances for solo violin. This work was later arranged for violin and symphony orchestra, and premiered with Redwood Symphony Orchestra and Karen Bentley in 2002.
Uspávanky /Lullabies for Violin and Piano (2006) is a lyrical parallel to Homage to Fiddlers for Violin and Cello, and is similarly based on the folk music of my native country. The composition is generated from Moravian lullabies. I have expanded the augmented fourth, the governing feature of the Lydian mode, and constructed a bi-tonal work: a mother sings and rocks her baby (simple tune in piano in Ab Major), but the child’s dreaming comes from somewhere else (violin in D Major).
From the Czech Republic, Jan Vičar is a prolific composer whose works have been performed and recorded by leading soloists, orchestras and choirs in the Czech Republic, United States, Canada and Japan. He has served as Editor-In-Chief of the leading Czech music journal Hudební rozhledy.
Vičar has published five books including Imprints: Essays on Czech Music and Aesthetics. He is a professor of music at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and head of the Musicology Department of Palacky University in Olomouc. As a Fulbright/CIES Scholar-in-residence, he lectured at eight United States universities in 1998 and 1999.
amberwood was recorded at Shoal Creek, Alabama on March 4, 2007.
Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume Violin 1860
William Whedbee Viola 1987
Paolo Fazioli F212 Grand Piano 2006
Produced by Karen Bentley Pollick
Engineered and Mastered by Brian Moon
Graphic Design by FitzMartin
Cover photo courtesy of Sylvia Michiels Photography 2007
Photo of Karen Bentley Pollick & Ivan Sokolov courtesy of Matthew Felton 2006
Copyright Ariel Ventures
"Sokolov's "Solnechnaya" Sonata lands somewhere between Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, surprising for a work composed in 2005. Its passion and melodrama were mined well by the duo. Vicar's "Uspavanky" served well as a meditative closer."