Violinist Carolyn Huebl received her doctorate from the University of Michigan, so it was probably just a matter of time before we heard her perform the music of that university’s famed professor emeritus William Bolcom.
Huebl, an associate professor of violin at the Blair School of Music, was at Turner Hall on Saturday to perform one of her semiannual Nashville recitals with pianist Mark Wait. Her program included Bolcom’s terrific Violin Sonata No. 2, written in honor of the great Italian-American jazz violinist Joe Venuti. The program also included performances of Schubert’s Violin Sonata in A minor and Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major.
Composed in 1978, Bolcom’s four-movement sonata captures something of Venuti’s jazzy style. The first movement, “Summer Dreams,” is a cross between a modified blues piece and a nocturne, with the piano playing a bluesy accompaniment below the violin’s vaporous (and barely tonal) melodic line. The second movement, aptly named “Brutal, fast,” came across as a crazed scherzo, while the “Adagio” seemed like an affecting aria. The finale, “In Memory of Joe Venuti,” was a lovely Venuti-like salsa.
The duo gave this work a memorable reading. Huebl played with a golden tone, and she expertly handled this work’s difficult effects, such as left- and right-hand pizzicatos, and sliding double stops. Wait, who provided nuanced accompaniment throughout the piece, deserves special mention for his virtuoso work in “Brutal, fast,” which called on the pianist to alternate between playing and banging. Wait made it all seem musical.
Saturday’s recital opened with Schubert’s A minor Sonata. It’s hard to say whether Schubert intended this work to be a “tragic” sonata (the piece sounds like drawing-room music to me), but Huebl sure played every note as if her life depended on it. She performed the opening movement with a robust tone, and she played the third-movement “Menuetto” with an amazing amount of vigor. Huebl and Wait’s most memorable playing came in the “Andante,” which they performed with warmth and immediacy, as if they were interpreting German lieder.
The duo’s big piece came at the end, in their rendition of Franck’s sonata from 1886. Huebl and Wait’s playing was so intensely in the moment that they seemingly stopped time – the half-hour-long sonata seemed to fly by in an instant. They played this work with sweep, thrust and, when called for, just the right amount of languorous passion. There was even enough warmth and immediacy in the performance to make this Lisztian piece sound almost Brahmsian. Almost.