The most familiar piece on the program at Anderson House on Saturday afternoon was a rarity: the youthful Sonata in E-Flat, composed by Richard Strauss just before he went into the business of producing tone poems. It contains substantial hints of the great music that was to come from this master technician.
Otherwise, violinist Mary Findley (with the expert partnership of pianist Marjorie Lee) played nothing but Washington premieres of music composed during the 1970s. The recital focused largely on the return in our time to the romantic tradition that seemed to have died with Strauss.
The melodies are more angular than they used to be, and the harmonies have a bit more acid in them. The violinist is not allowed to substitute lush tone for precision of rhythm and intonation as used to be possible in a lot of romantic music, but the spirit is that of romanticism--unabashed emotion, a tendency to leap into lyricism and a kind of reckless adventure, a refusal to be restricted by standard patterns and formulas, whether they be those of sonata form or those of Schoenberg.
The most successful of the three new pieces was the 1977 "Waltz Inventions" of Canadian composer Hugh Hartwell: a series of miniatures sometimes wistful and often dramatic, with virtuoso passages such as the concerto of a cadenza and mysterious hints of unheard melodies hiding in the gaps of fragmentary phrases. There were times when the discussion between violin and piano verged on argument and others when they achieved an uneasy unanimity.
The Sonata in Three Movements (1974) by Eileen Taaffe Zwillich is immediately enjoyable and invites repeated hearings. It uses fairly traditional forms, with jazz-influenced rhythms and chromatic harmonies to identify it as music of the late 20th century. The "Platinum Spirals" (1976) of Joan Tower, composed for unaccompanied violin, uses all of the instrument's resources, including some very rich-sounding double stops.
Findley played with a fine sense of the music's varied styles, a tone that was clear and flexibly nuanced, quite rich in the Strauss but avoiding lush effects in the contemporary works where they would have been out of place. Lee's piano sometimes overpowered the violin in the Strauss, which sounded less rehearsed than the other pieces, with occasional small lapses of ensemble. But on the whole, her contribution to the program was impressive.