The Eclectic Violinist
Rose Theater, Lincoln Center
William Walton: Violin Sonata
J.S. Bach: Sonata No.2 in A Minor
Joaquin Rodrigo Sonata Pimpante
Sarasate: Zapateado, Romanza Andaluza, Zigeunerweisen
Gil Shaham (Violin), Akira Eguchi (Piano)
Gil Shaham today has the experience, mastery and fame to choose the most eclectic programs, so his New York recital last night yielded a pair of surprises. They were both good and not so good. His choice of the almost unknown William Walton Violin Sonata was certainly an interesting, if not revelatory discovery. His other unknown, Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Budding” sonata was pure delight. The other works were hardly unknown, but not all in Mr. Shaham’s almost limitless genius.
That was the second piece, Bach’s A Minor Sonata, played without his brilliant accompanist, Akira Eguchi. We have all heard it played with excess emotion or with monastic austerity in hopes for fans of ancient music. Both can be entrancing. Mr. Shaham took the middle path with his Stradivarius. It was played cogently, directly; it had the clearest lines in the fast movement, and a fugue—the second movement—that showed every entrance and every chord with transparent ease.
So what was wrong? Perhaps Mr. Shaham was too calculating, perhaps one was hypnotized by this perfectly practiced work, or perhaps the Bach was something where he must develop emotionally in line with his now perfect technique.
The Walton sonata was originally commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, as a kind of charity deal. (Walton had to pay the expenses of his wife, who was dying of cancer, though she passed away before the work was done, and he married another woman, who lived her life on his Italian villa.) The first movement was laid out well and played with that combination of open ardor in which Mr. Shahan shines. But the music was not terribly memorable.
The second movement, a set of seven variations on a cogent theme, showed Walton in a far better light. Here was a sarcastic march, a delicious presto ending, a short but elegant cadenza. Needless to say, Messrs Shaham and Eguchi had it mastered.
The most unalloyed pleasure was Rodrigo’s Sonata Pimpante, the “budding” sonata. Like everything which this composer wrote in almost a century of composition, the work was decidedly Iberian, but with enough lovely tunes to spare. Mr. Eguchi played the guitar-like accompaniment with both precision and emotion, while Mr. Shaham shone. The final movement, most gypsy-like of all, could stand on its own as an encore.
Which brings us to the last four encores. The real encore was Brahms Fourth Hungarian Dance (arranged, I believe by Joachim), but the three before were by a violin virtuoso who apparently could have been competition for Paganini, Pablo de Sarasate. While Mr. Shaham’s three works here were arranged by him to be a sonata, the crowded Rose Theatre quite rightly applauded after each one. From both piano and violin, they take elegance, perfection, incredible virtuosity and great taste. To say the least, these two had enough of that to go around again. All three works were played effortlessly and (more significantly) shmaltzlessly.