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Gil and Orli Shaham

The Shaham's, violinist Gil and his most exquisitely playing sister Orli, performed a delicacy of a concert at the Kennedy Center last Sunday (November 7). On a perfect autumn day, there was—short of staying outside—nothing more gently civilized and fun to do than follow the WPAS's call. That would have been possible even on a whim, as plenty of tickets were available at the door.

Three Mozart violin sonatas (42 to go) were the light and easily enjoyable treats in the first half. To lean back and enjoy beautiful music that, for all its undeniable quality, is not a terribly serious affair was a nice change from emotionally more taxing late Beethoven or Mahler—recent parts of my musical diet. Mlle. Shaham's fleet fingers dotted all the notes, not forgetting musicality and occasional force along the way. Her brother, meanwhile, played unpretentiously and with visible joy. It was like being witness to a friendly afternoon of Hausmusik. K. 305, K. 301, and K. 304 (in A major, G major, and E minor, respectively) showed how "light" and "pretty" need not be gentle putdowns. In fact, regularly enjoyed Mozart is like a musical detox, so naturally falls his musical idiom in place.

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Gil & Orli Shaham, Prokofiev Album
Lest people come away with the idea that classical music is all about "nice" (or worse, "relaxing," like a diet of 103.5 might have you believe), the second half was all Prokofiev. Clouds moved in where sun and blue skies were before... at least on an emotional level. The "bittersweet lyricism" (Eric Bromberger) of the Five Melodies—five California-inspired songs without words, later redesignated from voice to violin—give you Prokofiev harmonies in a very seductive and rather sweet setting. The cliché of the violin singing gets its most obvious manifestation in it. Gil Shaham did his part in producing a pleasantly flowing and rich tone from his early Stradivarius, the 1699 "Countess Polignac."

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Gil & Orli Shaham, The Fauré Album
Grimly the piano announces, with trills going along on the violin, what is to be expected from a War Sonata, the sonata for violin and piano, no. 1, op. 8, in F minor. The Prokofiev, all presented on the latest Shaham's release of a disc with his music and some transcriptions, was cold and aggressive at times and proved to be the worthy main course after the Mozart apéritif. Amazing fingerwork in hushed passages with intermittent arpeggios somberly moved things along to the end of a disquieting first movement. Lyrical, wistful, wild, and pouncing moments all share the second movement (Allegro brusco). Cough salvos were fired from the audience—perhaps in honor of the sonata's nickname—and after a gorgeous Andante followed the furious arpeggio-heavy Allegrissimo. Playing enjoyably well together, the Shaham's followed the work to all its depths.

More F minor Prokofiev, but of a very different character, was given as an encore, a movement from the second sonata, op. 12, topped things off with good humor. A bon-bon followed and then—Gil Shaham "promised" it would be the last one—Fauré's Clair de Lune, op. 46, no. 2, from their "Fauré Album" concluded the program.

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