Many recitals at Lawrence University feature Western classical music. The routine is familiar: the musician enters the stage to applause, performs their piece and then bows to applause. Gabe Roethle’s senior recital for violin this past Saturday, Feb. 18 offered some atypical concert aspects, combined with extraordinary performances.
Before anything, the lights went dark. The audience, too confused by the darkening, did not clap upon Roethle’s entrance. Lit by a single lamp, he broke into Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 5. Given that Ysaÿe was a virtuoso violinist himself, the music included a certain idiomaticity not always available in violin repertoire.
With a gradual opening, the piece slowly unraveled with singing lines and left-hand pizzicato. The mood picked up quickly, as sudden bursts of arpeggiated energy became more frequent. Roethle delivered fully on the composition spirit, ending with a satisfying climax. For the second, dance-like movement, he took a fast tempo, but offered a mysterious tone during its slower section.
Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 5 followed, before which Roethle turned on a second lamp. Another virtuosic work, he followed the original bowings, which are infamous for their technical difficulty. The opening cadenza was a bit hazy, but it was made up for entirely during the cadenza’s return. During the main étude-like section, Roethle experimented with strategic rubato, to resounding success.
After a third light was turned on, Roethle began Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G minor, a staple of the violin repertoire. With a thoroughly expressive take on the opening, the first movement continued with gentle ebb and flow. Without even lifting the bow, Roethle broke into the complex fugal movement, in which the subjects were masterfully highlighted. The pleasant third and rigorous fourth movement followed, with equally convincing interpretations.
After an intermission, the small lamps were removed, and the stage lights were turned on. Roethle was joined by sophomore Ben Keating at the piano, and the duo began George Enescu’s Violin Sonata No. 3. As an enormously demanding work, both musicians showed admirable resilience. There was strong teamwork between the two, which aided the complex syncopation and rhythms throughout the piece.
The final number departed from classical music to Frank Zappa’s “Inca Roads,” arranged by Roethle himself. The stage expanded to include Owen Davies (guitar), junior Dylan Donnelly (keyboards), senior Jando Valdez (bass), sophomore Jacob Hanekamp (percussion) and Seth Ploeckelman (drum set).
The group included an improvisatory soundscape-like introduction, abruptly transitioning into the Zappa tune. Solos alternated between musicians, though particularly outstanding was that of Hanekamp, who brought out sentiment hidden within the xylophone. Roethle’s solo ascended the uppermost regions of the violin’s register, eliciting smiles from his bandmates.
All in all, Roethle’s recital offered an immense display of talent, with a startling confidence that defined each phrase. Performing the first three works in the dark, the recital provoked questions about typical concert practices. Why should classical music not experiment further with theatrical elements?