North Bethesda is a long commute from the Virginia highlands, but Alexandria composer Garrison Hull, along with violinist Michael Appleman and pianist Alexander Paley, brought the two regions together in a performance Thursday night at Strathmore Hall Arts Center with the world premiere of Hull's Violin Sonata No. 2, "The Appleman."
The sonata, commissioned in part by Strathmore and many individual donors, takes its inspiration from the fiddle music of still-rural Virginia, and the rhapsodic opening integrated fiddle runs and double-stops with the malleable harmonies, quirky rhythms and sweet-sour melodies of Hull's neoclassicism. A ghostly slow interlude then led into a pizzicato-fueled scherzando-like section. The rhapsodic style finally reappeared with a new boldness and intensity, then gave way to a spare, haunting coda, with a single stratospheric note on the violin leading the way into silence; one pictured a lone fiddler on a hilltop.
Appleman and Paley played marvelously, giving just enough emphasis to the gentle rhythmic tug and harmonic tang of the highland influence and clearly projecting the new work's structure. The violinist, especially, played with the utmost passion in the soaring sections of "The Appleman," more than justifying Hull's titular homage.
The duo further showed their sympathy to Hull's idiom in his previous violin sonata, "The Strathmore." Shorter and sunnier, it moved from a genteel promenade recalling tea-time in the mansion to a pastorale before reaching a fervent conclusion. Two more neoclassical works, played equally well by Appleman and Paley, rounded out the program: Alexander Tcherepnin's fun yet forgettable violin sonata and Georges Enesco's tempestuous, gripping Sonata No. 2.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone