Violinist James Anderson and pianist Susan Maddocks first collaborated when Anderson was a student at University of Northern Colorado and Maddocks an accompanist. They discovered they worked together so well that even though Anderson is now based in Austin, Texas and Maddocks in Northern Colorado, they formed The Morning Duo, to explore the rich repertoire for piano-violin duo.
This past Tuesday evening at Fort Collins High School, with the audience seated on the stage a few feet away from the performers, the Morning Duo performed a recital that included music by George Gershwin, Astor Piazzola and Edward Elgar. The intimacy of the setting was further enhanced by the brief introductions Anderson provided as casually as if he were talking to friends in his living room.
The recital bucks the tradition of violin-piano recitals that always include at least one violin virtuosic piece in which the violinist performs superhuman feats while the pianist is reduced to minimal, often oom-pah type accompaniment. It was a treat to hear the artistry of both performers clearly shown in this true duo recital.
Both segments of the program began with the music of Astor Piazzola, the Argentine composer much admired by many classical musicians. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma released an album called Soul of the Tango: Music by Astor Piazzola in 1997 that was a crossover hit. Anderson, a violinist versatile in jazz and bluegrass as well as classical music, has formed a group called the Austin Piazolla Quintet.
The Three Preludes by George Gershwin were originally written for piano solo and arranged for violin and piano by legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz. The violin’s ability—as compared with the piano’s inability—to slide into pitches gave these pieces a free, improvisatory feel, true to their jazz inspiration.
Anderson introduced the final piece, the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Elgar as The Hard One, inviting a few knowing chuckles from the audience. He had discovered it while doing post-graduate studies at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in England. Elgar, whose Pomp and Circumstance is familiar to anyone who’s attended a graduation ceremony, shows a different side in this work; a less grand, and more reflective side. This was Anderson’s souvenir from England to his hometown of Fort Collins.
This is the only the second recital of the newly formed Morning Duo. Plans are in place to work on more music and pursue more venues. Good news for music lovers in Northern Colorado.