Classic or pop, Monroe was in control


Yesterday afternoon's offering in the Lois J. Wright Memoria Series at the Community College of Baltimore presented two different artists in two separate programs -- the violinist, Diane Monroe, and the pianist, Martin David Jones.

In an interesting and varied program, Monroe proved an impressive artist. Some of her best playing came in two of her own arrangements -- of the traditional hymn, "Amazing Grace," and of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood." Not very many conservatory-trained violinists know how to approach popular music, but Monroe did.

Her unaccompanied rendition of "Amazing Grace" was one of the best arrangements of the piece this listener has ever heard. It was dignified, heart-felt and served up with a delicious dollop of the blues. She was equally persuasive in the Ellington number (in which she was partnered beautifully by the pianist John Dulik). She played with exquisite bow control and color.

Monroe played remarkably whenever the music seemed to be full of romantic character (she was somewhat less impressive in Bach's Sonata No. 4). She played Smetana's "From My Homeland" and the first movement of David Baker's Sonata for Violin and Piano (1989) with fire and conviction. The Baker was an interesting piece and one wished that Monroe and Dulik had had time to present all of it. The first movement begins and ends in the ardent manner of the late 19th century, but there is a central section that is patterned after a boogie-woogie. Somehow it all hung together. Baker, who teaches jazz improvisation at Indiana University, is one of our best composers and his "serious" music is not heard as often as it deserves.

There was only one thing unattractive about Monroe's playing and that was her thin and occasionally raspy sound. One suspects this was the fault of a bad violin. It is nothing less than a tragedy that good instruments have become so expensive that only collectors -- and not the musicians for whom they were made -- can afford to own them.

The second half of the Wright program presented Martin David Jones, a graduate student at the Peabody Conservatory. His playing of Haydn (the Sonata in B Minor) was wooden and his performances of Liszt (the "Vallee d'Obermann" from the Swiss volume of the "Annees") and Rachmaninov (two Etudes-Tableaux from opus 39) were technically and rhythmically sloppy.

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