The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Kelly Hall-Tompkins (violin) Craig Ketter (piano) Anna Reinersman (harp)
Composer: Kreisler, Suk, Ysaÿe, Bach, Saint-Saëns, Still & Baker

This is a particularly varied recital disc, mixing bonbons like Josef Suk’s Liebeslied and William Grant Still’s little Summerland with heavyweights like Ysaÿe’s Ballade (third solo sonata) and Bach’s Chaconne. Kelly Hall-Tompkins has a winning way with some of the character pieces: she catches the mercurial charms of Saint-Saëns’s Fantasy for violin and harp, a beguiling and sometimes witty piece of sophisticated salon fare; the performance of the Liebeslied has a wistful quality to it; and she brings a genial touch to Still’s elegiac Summerland.

David Baker Jr’s Ethnic Variations on a Theme of Paganini (yes, that theme), 13 brief excursions into popular music styles like bebop and rhythm ’n’ blues written for Ruggiero Ricci, calls for outbursts of virtuosity that put Hall-Tompkins at full stretch, and her playing of Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo–caprice is proficient but a little short on charm.

Sadly, Ysaÿe and Bach are less than satisfying. The opening of the Ysaÿe works nicely, with Hall-Tompkins crafting its increasing levels of intensity in a single compelling line. After that it tends to break up into a series of disjointed events, marked by the bow vigorously biting into the double-stops in a style that becomes hectoring – something unfortunately emphasised by the close recording and resonant acoustic. Her performance of the Bach is impressive in parts, but again it doesn’t gel into a convincing narrative, not least because of her constant shifts of tempo to mark Bach’s paragraphs, and her tendency to increase speed to heighten the urgency of a passage, before putting the brakes on at the beginning of the next.