Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gil Shaham: Walton, Bach, Rodrigo, Sarasate

Violinist Gil Shaham paid one of his frequent visits to Kansas City via the Harriman-Jewell performance series, one of the highlights of the Kansas City classical scene.

The concert opened with the somewhat rarely heard Sonata for Violin and Piano by Sir William Walton. Since this is not a "professional" review, I am not required to admit my prejudices, however I confess a certain disdain for Walton's works; none of them have ever lit my fire with the possible exception of the Viola Concerto. I often find they really go nowhere with little memorable melodic or rhythmic variety.

Walton's Sonata exemplified my problem with his music, it just seems to go nowhere. A basically tonal, almost romantic piece spiked with a little pungency here and there, with darting figures suggesting uninspired improvisation. In two similarly timed movements, the second a set of variations, the work proceeds leisurely having little organic progress or contrast in rhythm or texture in its half hour length.

Shaham and his able accompanist Akira Eguchi gave what has to be a stellar performance of the work. Shaham amazed all night with his silky tone and dead on intonation from his incredible Stradivarius. Even the most quiet, high pitches never wavered and were clear and bell like. Eguchi provided a propulsive accompaniment, easily tackling the difficult score, almost more interesting than the violin part.

Bach's monumental series of Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin have challenged violinists since their inception. The Sonatas are, by definition, more darker and "serious" than the Partitas, with this evening's Sonata # 2 being no exception. But in Shaham's hands, his crystal tone, incredible dynamic shading and rhythmic intensity brought the work to life. Although I may have longed for the gritty monumentality of Milstein's performances (ones I have cherished since they were recorded in the 70's), Shaham brought out all the inner voices and contrapuntal wonders, so often obscured in a fog of double stops and shaky intonation. His superhuman ability to produce subtle and sometimes none-too-subtle dynamic contrasts gave the work the contrast it needs to avoid a monophonic sameness.

The last half of the generous concert was a virtual fiesta of Spanish works from Rodrigo and Sarasate.

The Rodrigo "Sonata Pimpante" was unknown to me. I had difficulty finding much information about the work except that is was composed and premiered in 1966. A Fast-slow-fast, three movement work of about 15 minutes duration, Sonata Pimpante is a characteristic work, dripping with guitar like figures, languorous Spanish melodies and wonderful rhythmic variety. The middle movement is much like the "Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles" movement of the familiar "Fantasía Para un Gentilhombre", with a rhythmic contrasting central section, followed by the return of the slower opening. The last movement contains a bit more spiky dissonance than one usually associates with Rodrigo but is totally characteristic of Spanish music. Shaham appears to playing this work frequently and its introduction to audiences is quite welcome.

The concluding trio of works by Sarasate, "Zapateado", Romanza Andaluza" and the popular "Zigeunerweisen" in its form for violin and piano, provided a sweet and refreshing dessert to this challenging program.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry you did not like the Walton. Try his "Symphony No. 1" from the mid-1930s. I have been listening to in it in my Plymouth van, and like the van, it "goes places".