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Music Review: Kelly Hall-Tompkins – In My Own Voice

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Classical violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins dedicates her new album, In My Own Voice (MSR Classics, 1278), to her husband Joe as a thank you for being "always most supportive of my creative endeavors".

Recently these have seen her appear on the Hallmark Channel, and as the featured artist in the Chamber Music America Magazine. They have also resulted in her being very much in demand as a soloist, and also for chamber and orchestral appearances the world over.

Kelly originates from South Carolina. She earned a MM degree from the Manhattan School Of Music, before adding a BM with honours in violin performance from the Eastman School. Whilst there, she won the prestigious Performer’s Certificate competition. In 2003 she added the Naumburg International Violin Competition Honorarium Prize.

In 2007 she was busy working with the actress Mia Farrow as a soloist for a concert held at the Carnegie Hall in aid of the Victims Of Darfur, of which Ms Farrow is an active spokesperson.

Subsequent to that she has appeared as a soloist with the Dallas Symphony, the Chamber Orchestra of New York, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under such renowned conductors as Previn, Masur, Dutoit, and others.

In 2005 she founded a charity Music Kitchen – Food For The Soul, which brings chamber music into the homeless shelters of New York.

The attractive cover of In My Own Voice shows her lovingly clutching the Guarneri del Gesu violin that she plays throughout the album. On the recording she is joined by renowned American harpist Anna Reinersman, and leading pianist Craig Ketter. For the album she has chosen to perform works from seven different composers.

The album opens with “Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice for Violin Solo, Op. 6” by Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962). By the age of seven the remarkable Kreisler was already a violin virtuoso. He became the youngest ever student admitted to the Vienna Conservatory and studied with Anton Bruckner. He finished his education at the grand old age of twelve and set out touring America whilst composing short pieces for violin.

Dedicated by Kreisler to the Belgian virtuoso and friend Eugene Ysaye, who features later on this album, the piece “Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice” provides an invigorating introduction.

For her next selection Kelly performs the extraordinarily beautiful “Liebeslied”. Composed by Josef Suk (1874-1935), who was Dvorak’s favourite pupil when studying in Prague, it is an enthralling, romantic piece that slowly builds in intensity.

This is followed by Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931)’s “Violin Sonata No. 4 in D Minor, Op.27” which is widely acknowledged as one of the most difficult pieces to perform within the violin repertoire.

The next selection, “Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 – Chaconne” by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), is an enthralling fifteen minute performance. The chaconne section is often, as in this case, performed separately. The chaconne, which probably originated in Mexico, began life as a ‘wild and lascivious dance’. However by Bach’s time it had gradually become slower and ‘more dignified’.

The album’s informative notes describe the piece as being of ‘great complexity’ ‘composed within a set of continuous variations over a repeated harmonic progression’. They continue, ‘the motion from minor to major and back to minor creates three large sections with other subdivisions, resulting from the occasional recurrence of the opening theme.’

Kelly Hall-Tompkins’ wonderful performance is remarkable when you consider the final statement: ‘In each successive variation the musical intensification occurs more quickly to create the impression of an overarching progression using different techniques to build up energy and momentum’. They end by describing its thirty variations as being both intricate and technically demanding to perform

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), another child prodigy, composed the next piece, “Fantasy For Violin and Harp in A Minor, Op.124” in 1907. It is an often fragile piece that is perfectly written for both instruments. It builds slowly and effortlessly towards its uplifting and totally absorbing finale.

William Grant Still (1895-1978) composed “Summerland” in 1936 for piano. He later recast it for violin and piano. The first movement, performed here, tells the story of the human soul after death which, if the person had lived a good life, will enter heaven or “Summerland”.

Lastly, and perhaps most intriguingly, is her selection of David Baker Jr’s (b.1931), 1976 composition “Ethnic Variations On A Theme Of Paganini”. This fascinating piece comes from the, so-called, ‘Third Stream’ movement which aimed to explore the gaps between classical and jazz tradition. It was a term initially used by Gunther Schuller in 1957 to describe this fusion of styles.

Modelled on Paganini’s “Twenty-Fourth Caprice for Solo Violin” Baker adds nine variations of jazz styling to the central theme. Utilising Paganini’s harmony and melody he fuses observations drawn from popular music, heading separate movements as ‘bebop’, ‘swing’, ‘calypso’, ‘bluesy’, ‘spiritual’, ‘heavy rhythm and blues’ , and ‘funky groove’.

In My Own Voice contains a wide ranging choice of violin pieces each of which are played immaculately. Kelly Hall-Tompkins performs the technically demanding Bach and Ysaye compositions, alongside the beautifully haunting Saint Saens, the lively Kreisler, and the fascinating Baker variations with equal mastery and remarkable versatility.

The beauty of the artiste, the instrument she graces, and the music chosen positively radiates from the recording.

For more information on Kelly Hall-Tompkins please visit her official website.
MSR Classics have more information on this recording and an extensive catalogue of releases to view on their website.

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