THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
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.