Music by Donald MartinoMusic by Donald Martino

Miranda Cuckon, violin
Blair McMillen, piano

Centaur Records

Sonata for Solo Violin (2003)
Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (2004)
Romanza for Solo Violin (2002)
Fantasy-Variations for Violin (1962)

Miranda Cuckson has created quite an impressive disc of performances with this collection of works by Donald Martino. Each piece is a chop-buster in some respect, even though the music itself rarely sounds as if it is hard to play. Cuckson has a tone and style that highlight Martino’s underlying Romantic influence and make that influence easy to hear. In the three solo compositions, Cuckson has formidable technique and a big sound. In Sonata No. 2, the only work on the disc with a collaborative pianist, Cuckson integrates seamlessly with the piano’s spiky world. The performances are top-notch in all respects.

Of all the works on the disc, I was particularly fond of Sonata No. 2. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kyle Gann’s recent blog post on “Generous Composing.” Martino’s music is, in many ways, terribly ungenerous stuff. There are hints at Romantic shapes and gestures and, as I said before, Cuckson does extremely well at drawing that out of the music. The surface of the music, however, seems to drift from idea to idea and one simply takes it on faith that there is an underlying logic. Cuckson’s performance convinces me that there is a logic in the string of gestures, which elevates her performance skill even more in my eyes. Sonata No. 2 is different, somehow. Two performers working together in the same musical space came across more convincing than just one. There is a greater sense of trajectory in Sonata No. 2 which was much more immediate and lingered longer. All the works get great performances on this disc, but Sonata No. 2 rises above the rest.

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