Bal­ance con­trolled

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week -

An ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence packed the Great Hall at St. John’s Col­lege on Nov. 19 for a deeply re­ward­ing recital by two mu­si­cians of un­usual per­spi­cac­ity: the vi­o­lin­ist Ste­fan Jackiw and the pi­anist Max Levin­son. First, a word about that au­di­ence. Some fa­mil­iar faces from mu­sic-lov­ing cir­cles were to be seen, but as the con­cert hour ar­rived, the hall filled up with a steady stream of col­lege stu­dents, who through the en­tire con­cert dis­played a level of rapt at­ten­tion that is rarely en­coun­tered in the course of any­one’s con­cert-go­ing. They ap­par­ently had not re­ceived the memo stat­ing that their age group’s in­dif­fer­ence to clas­si­cal mu­sic gen­er­ates despair about the field’s fu­ture. St. John’s stu­dents are not in ev­ery way typ­i­cal of the world at large, to be sure, and since they are un­usu­ally well trained in the art of lis­ten­ing to other peo­ple, it’s not a stretch to un­der­stand why they are sim­i­larly open to pay­ing at­ten­tion to worth­while things be­ing expressed through non­ver­bal means. Lis­ten­ing in their pres­ence was up­lift­ing.

Jackiw and Levin­son of­fered a smartly con­ceived evening of four se­ri­ous works for vi­o­lin and pi­ano: Mozart’s A-Ma­jor Sonata (K.293d), Co­p­land’s Vi­o­lin Sonata, Lu­toslawski’s Su­bito (Sud­denly), and Brahms’ Third Sonata (op. 108). The duo struck a dis­tinc­tive bal­ance in the Mozart, with the pi­ano rather over­shad­ow­ing the vi­o­lin in the dy­nam­ics depart­ment. In ret­ro­spect it be­came clear that this had been a con­scious de­ci­sion, one that was his­tor­i­cally grounded on the fact that Mozart’s so-called “vi­o­lin sonatas” were con­ceived as — and, in this case, first pub­lished as — Sonatas for the Harp­si­chord or Pianoforte With Ac­com­pa­ni­ment by a Vi­o­lin. This cho­sen bal­ance proved spe­cific to the piece, and it al­lowed rel­a­tively free rein to Levin­son’s ex­tro­verted, full-toned, yet fluid mu­si­cal per­son­al­ity. As Mozart’s vari­a­tions un­rolled, one mar­veled at the in­bred mu­si­cal­ity of the pi­anist’s phras­ing — not just the arch of a full mu­si­cal idea but also the “lit­tle events” that rep­re­sent the in­di­vid­ual words of a mu­si­cal sen­tence.

Jackiw is a more re­strained in­stru­men­tal­ist, ca­pa­ble of daz­zling but ap­par­ently not much in­ter­ested in do­ing so. El­e­gance is his watch­word, and he backs it up with an ex­cep­tion­ally at­trac­tive tone and spot-on in­to­na­tion. The mind jumped to “con­nois­seur” fid­dlers of an ear­lier era. His poise in the Mozart re­minded me of the pa­tri­cian Bel­gian vi­o­lin­ist Arthur Gru­mi­aux, and his com­mit­ted pre­ci­sion in Co­p­land’s Sonata sug­gested the Pol­ish (later Mex­i­can) vir­tu­oso Hen­ryk Sz­eryng. The Co­p­land, writ­ten in 1943 and not of­ten pro­grammed, is un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally “Apol­lo­nian” for its com­poser but nonethe­less in­cor­po­rates al­lu­sions to Amer­i­can folk mu­sic, if fil­tered through the prism of Bartók. Lu­toslawski’s Su­bito, from 1992 (two years be­fore the com­poser’s death), be­gan and ended with

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