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Else­where in the news, on Dec. 1, vi­o­lin­ist Gil Sha­ham paid a re­peat visit to the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter through the graces of Per­for­mance Santa Fe. When I say “re­peat visit,” I don’t mean just that he oc­cu­pied the same stage he did four years ago; he per­formed prac­ti­cally the same pro­gram. On both oc­ca­sions, he of­fered un­ac­com­pa­nied works by Bach. In Novem­ber 2011, he played the D-mi­nor Par­tita, C-ma­jor Sonata, and E-ma­jor Par­tita. This De­cem­ber, he played the same three, al­though he added a fourth piece, the A-mi­nor Sonata, to launch the pro­gram. All of th­ese are mas­ter­works that bear re­peated lis­ten­ing, and I doubt that any of us un­fail­ingly re­mem­ber the minu­tiae of his ear­lier in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Still, one might have pre­ferred that this ex­em­plary vi­o­lin­ist show a dif­fer­ent an­gle of his artistry.

His per­for­mance of the A-mi­nor Sonata was not quite up to the stan­dard he reached in the en­su­ing three items. One was al­most con­stantly aware of the work’s im­mense dif­fi­cul­ties. Sha­ham fi­nessed them, to be sure, but the sec­ond-move­ment Fuga dis­played rough­ness that even stretched to ragged bits here and there, and in the en­su­ing An­dante the re­peated bass-line of eighth-notes was plod­ding and un­evenly phrased. One feared he was hav­ing an “off” evening, but he found his sea legs for the rest of the pro­gram. The D-mi­nor Par­tita was no­table for a highly charged ren­di­tion of the Sara­bande, sparkling de­liv­ery in the Giga, and a firm dra­matic sense over­all. The open­ing move­ment of the C-ma­jor Sonata also has a re­peated-note bass-line; this time, though, he sep­a­rated their it­er­a­tions with finer rhyth­mic equal­ity, and he shaded his tim­bre in some of those re­peated notes such that their at­tacks al­most re­sem­bled pizzi­catos, though they were en­tirely bowed. Sha­ham bar­reled through the Sonata’s Fuga like the Wabash Can­non­ball. He showed aplomb even dur­ing an anx­ious sev­eral sec­onds where things sounded on the point of de­rail­ing, in the mea­sures just be­fore the four-voiced ex­po­si­tion of the in­verted sub­ject gives way to a rhap­sodic episode in un­har­mo­nized eighth-notes. The most rav­ish­ing play­ing of the recital ar­rived with the next move­ment, a Largo in which Sha­ham’s nu­ances of tonal beauty re­minded lis­ten­ers of his very spe­cial abil­i­ties. The fi­nal move­ment was en­er­getic in­deed — but Bach did mark it Al­le­gro as­sai (“very fast”) and Sha­ham did not take that in­di­ca­tion half­heart­edly. The E-ma­jor Par­tita, which con­cluded the recital, is the most fes­tive piece in Bach’s un­ac­com­pa­nied vi­o­lin reper­toire. Sha­ham brought a jolly touch of the hoe­down to the open­ing Pre­lu­dio, in­gra­ti­at­ing charm to the Gavotte en Ron­deau, and lusti­ness to the bustling Bour­rée.

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