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15.5.07

Leila Josefowicz at JCCGW

Leila Josefowicz on Disc:
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Shostakovich


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Salonen / Messiaen


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Adams


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Prokofiev / Tchaikovsky
If you think you did well on Sunday showing your mom how much you love her, violinist Leila Josefowicz has you beat. For a Mother's Day concert at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Josefowicz dedicated a program of excellent music to her mother, who was in the audience. Such a good daughter, this one! For more information about her, see the recent profile by Stephen Brookes in the Post. That article is also about the John Adams piece The Dharma at Big Sur, which Josefowicz played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra earlier this month, reviewed here.

Sandwiched around this recital's intermission were two masterpieces of the 20th century, both performed in superlative renditions by Josefowicz and her usual recital partner, pianist John Novacek. Prokofiev's F minor violin sonata, op. 80, concluded the first half, a work that Ionarts last reviewed as part of a recital by Midori in 2005. Composed from 1938 to 1946, it is one of the wartime pieces, along with the bombastic seventh piano sonata. The op. 80 sonata opened with the somber theme rumbling in the low octaves of the piano, underneath a dirge-like monologue on the violin's lower strings. In the middle section of the first movement, the violin plays a series of muted runs that Prokofiev described as "like the wind in the graveyard." This moment of beautiful terror returned to hair-raising effect in the fourth movement, after a magnificently barbaric dance in the second movement and a delicate, celestial third movement. This was great playing from both violinist and pianist, raucous and unhinged at times but with utter simplicity where needed.

Prokofiev Violin Sonatas
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Oistrakh / Richter


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Stern / Zakin


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Bell / Mustonen
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Repin / Berezovsky


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Kremer / Argerich


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Shaham / Shaham
The Prokofiev was intriguingly paired with the Stravinsky Duo Concertante, from 1931-32, which opened the second half, balancing Prokofiev's tenebrism with light-infused, neo-Baroque dance. Novacek's remarkably accurate accompaniment full of guitar-like repeated notes in the first movement was the foundation for Josefowicz's soaring melody. The two Eglogues were energetic and pleasing pastoral movements, with melodic phrases presented in close counterpoint by the two instruments and baroqueux ornamentation. The Gigue's incredible virtuosity and choreographic grace was followed by a slow, cycling Dithyrambe, a gorgeous dance in honor of Bacchus.

The rest of the program, while played with admirable skill and sensitivity to stylistic detail, was less striking. The best of three shorter works opened the recital, the Brahms C minor Scherzo, composed as part of a composite sonata. Its thunderous, driving triplets, with Brahmsian metric shifts at cadences, were a suitable introduction to the Prokofiev sonata, just as its bucolic trio seemed to look forward to the Stravinsky. It was good to hear Conversio by Erkki-Sven Tüür (b. 1959), as an example of Josefowicz's embrace of contemporary composers. This work begins in the mold of John Adams, with a minimalistic repetition and variation in a more or less tonal framework, before it morphs into something like Boulez. Josefowicz and Novacek reacted with smiles to the reactions of some in the audience, which was on the whole poorly behaved. The work that ended the recital, Schubert's Rondo Brilliant in B Minor, D. 895, was a virtuosic cipher. It has no memorable melodies, lots of technical challenges, and goes on far too long. An encore would have been appreciated, anything to end on a more pleasing note, but it was not to be.

There is one more classical concert at JCCGW this season, featuring the JCC Symphony Orchestra next month (June 17, 7:30 pm). The program includes Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Fifth Symphony, as well as Amit Peled playing Shostakovich's first cello concerto.

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