Classical CD Reviews

CORNELIUS DUFALLO, “Journaling” = Works by DUFALLO, KING, JEANRENAUD, RUO, IYER, ADAMS, BUNCH – Cornelius Dufallo, violin & electronics – Innova

Really neat violin playing in works that cross boundaries.

Published on October 15, 2012

CORNELIUS DUFALLO, “Journaling” = Works by DUFALLO, KING, JEANRENAUD, RUO, IYER, ADAMS, BUNCH – Cornelius Dufallo, violin & electronics – Innova

CORNELIUS DUFALLO, “Journaling” = CORNELIUS DUFFALO: Violin Loop I, Violin Loop V; JOHN KING: Prima Volta; JOAN JEANRENAUD: Empty Infinity; HUANG RUO: Four Fragments; VIJAY IYER: Playlist One (Resonance); JOHN LUTHER ADAMS: Three High Places (Above Sunset Pass, The Wind at McLaren Summit, Looking Toward Hope); KENJI BUNCH: Until Next Time – Cornelius Dufallo, violin & electronics – Innova Records 831 (Distr. by Naxos), 57:37 ****:

Cornelius Dufallo is a tremendously talented violinist and innovator at the forefront of the American contemporary music scene.  From his website, The New York Times calls him one of the “new faces of new music” and praises his “alluring” solo performances and “imaginative” compositions. Dufallo plays both acoustic and electric violin and moves seamlessly from classical to pop and jazz styles.  He often works with cutting-edge technology such as the K-BOW by famed instrument designer Keith McMillan.

His concert series, “Journaling”, from which this fascinating album derives its title, was intended to showcase the possibilities of the 21st century violin repertoire; that of electronically-amplified and enhanced violin in particular. This is a diverse and attention-getting collection of works indeed.

Duffalo’s own music, particular that in Violin Loop I, has minimalist roots and reminded me a little bit of some of the genres early purveyors, such as Michael Galasso. It is quite energetic and propulsive. (He also cites Jean Luc Ponty as an influence; of course!) Duffalo’s Violin Loop V bears some of these same kinetic qualities but also a soulfulness and melancholy feel to it that I find quite nice. Prima Volta by John King, a fellow composer-performer, takes a very different but amazing turn. This work for violin and laptop computer in live mix allows the performer to play some very technical passages in a constantly changing soundscape. This a very spatial work that sounds quite “electronic” in spots but I found it very engaging.

Many listeners already know the amazing cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, from her work with the Kronos Quartet. Her Empty Infinity, written for Duffalo employs many overlapping digital loops against a startling and impressive solo line. Some of Jeanrenaud’s own technical prowess as a cellist comes through in her writing, making for a very riveting piece.

Huang Ruo’s Four Fragments is a pyrotechnical foray into a startling mélange of sounds that borrow from the styles of the Chinese two-string fiddle, contemporary avant-garde and rock violin. The work is a fairly substantial thirteen minutes and takes the player and listener through a wide range of moods and harmonic balances. It sounds very Chinese traditional in places and bursts into some nearly nightmarish assaults in others. Ruo is a young New York-based composer and conductor who, clearly, has much to offer the future of contemporary music.

Duffalo has played and toured a great deal with the contemporary ensemble, ETHEL, and has met many of his composer collaborators in this way; Vijay Iyer being one of them. Iyer has built a fine reputation as an impressive jazz pianist, recently featured on the cover of Downbeat magazine. His work Playlist One (Resonance) consists of a series of variations, of sorts, on a simple jazz-inspired riff that also contains some “eastern” sensitivity. The work focuses on the many impressive and very difficult techniques that a good violinist (such as Duffalo) has at their disposal: harmonics, double stops, pizzicato and so forth. This is a very high energy and impressive work!

I am most familiar with John Luther Adams for his orchestral music that paints a broad, slow moving and barren – yet moving – picture of his native Alaska. His Three High Places owes some to the same sonic genealogy but this piece is quite personal. It is dedicated to the memory of Gordon Wright, a close friend and colleague of Adams. The three movements each have a subtitle and theme that closely connect the composer and his departed friend to the landscapes and viewpoints that they loved: Above Sunset Pass, The Wind at McLaren Summit and Looking Toward Hope. All of Adams’ has a simple and, sometimes, stark beauty to it that this work shares but the very personal tribute intended within the music comes across well.

Kenji Bunch’s Until Next Time uses a special violin tuning (C#-F#-C#-F#) found in old traditional fiddle music, like that of Scotland. Bunch wrote the work to sound as if it were an old Scottish “aire” and blends some very nostalgic sounds with very contemporary playing techniques. The title refers to both the emotional sense of departing but also to the relatively short “lifespan” of a live performance and, in Bunch’s view, treats music as a “life form” that emerges only when performed and then must lie dormant until the next playing.

To borrow Bunch’s metaphor, each of these pieces deserves to live and not lie dormant. These are all very fine works, played wonderfully by Cornelius Duffalo. I highly recommend this disc to any fan of contemporary violin music and to fans of the modern in general. It is amazing playing and excellent music!

—Daniel Coombs




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