Violinist Robyn Bollinger, who strives to strengthen and reinvigorate the relationships among audience, performer and music, performed “Virtuoso Violin” for Lifetime Learning Sound of Music Performance Series at Temple Shalom in West Newton Monday. Her DVD “Ciaconna The Bass of Time” presents examples of the namesake form through history, using multi-media to introduce each piece. It arrived in 2017 to critical acclaim.
As a Dumbarton Oaks Early Career awardee, Bollinger is currently exploring the historic and musical significance of the encore. Monday’s recital incorporated music from each endeavor. First came the encores, or rather pieces which often serve as such. The opener, Bach’s Prelude from Partita No 3 BWV 1006 consisting almost entirely of 16th notes, demands elegance and exuberance in addition to a rapid tempo and the cleanest execution. Bollinger’s meticulous phrasing and dynamic contrasts made the thematic relationships clear.
Caprices by Pietro Locatelli and by Paganini came next. Locatelli was an Italian virtuoso living at about the same time as Bach. He posed extraordinary technical demands, which presumably reflected his own abilities. Pagannini, of course, was nonpareil. Bollinger showed herself equal to the demands of both. The group of four ended with “Obsession” from Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe’s Sonata no 2 in A Minor, in which the composer quotes the Bach Prelude at the beginning and throughout, reimagining the master. Chromatic harmonies and startling rhythmic complexities put the Ysaÿe clearly in the 20th century. With this selection, Bollinger essentially cycled back to where she started, while at the same time looking ahead.
A recent composition by Garth Knox, bridged the “Encore” and “Ciaccona” sections of the concert. Knox explores extended technique by abundantly utilizing heretofore incidental devices such as harmonics, and microtones. Harmonics are the featured element in Up in the Air from the set Violin Spaces. The sound has a glassy, floating quality. Primarily contemplative, the work allowed the listener the “space,” according to Knox, to enjoy the sounds which appear to float above his/her head. Traditional melodic elements, as well as virtuoso flourishes are recognizable throughout.
Taking two selections from “Ciaccona The Bass of Time,” Bollinger explained Ciaccona as a composition in which the musical essence grows from a repeating bass line. In Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia (Passacaglia being essentially synonymous with Ciaccona or Chaconne) she showed how a composition can grow from a simple seed. The opening descending four-note line transforms through harmonic and melodic variation, as well as rapid passagework, the mood elegiac throughout. Bollinger’s fastidious adherence to the demands of phrasing, melodic contour and harmonic color provided the listener with a clear blueprint of the composer’s intentions. Bach’s famous Ciaccona from Partita No 2 BWV 1004 is regarded by some as the penultimate composition of the Western canon, it distills musically, as Bollinger states in the narrated section of her DVD “where we have come from and where we hope to go.” Again, Bollinger’s consummate skill and artistry proved equal to the task.
It is true that the recital could be divided into “Encores” and “Ciaconnes,” but it also opened a tantalizing glimpse into the rich offerings of the solo violin literature.
Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is an amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.