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S & H Recital Review

Bach, Prokofiev, Adams Leila Josefowicz (violin); John Novacek (piano), Wigmore Hall, Monday, April 19th, 2004 (CC)



From Bach to jazzy minimalist within an hour is a long way to go, especially when the only ‘bridge’ is Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata. Maybe it was a feeling of duty that led Leila Josefowicz to include Bach as an opener, for whilst this account of the Sonata No. 1, BWV1014 contained impressive moments, there was a general air that the performers were feeling their way in. This was particularly true of the pianist, John Novacek, who appeared to misread the hall’s acoustics and threaten to over-power his partner in the first movement. Josefowicz was a much more subtle player from the start, characterising each of the four movements well. Indeed, the spell of intimacy she attempted to cast in the Andante was effectively scuppered by Novacek’s typewriter-ish bass.

Prokofiev’s First Sonata came off much better. Perhaps the link between the Bach and the Prokofiev was that both works operate on a slow-fast-slow-fast overall design. But the difference in interpretative standard was large. The Andante assai first movement showed both players projecting the ongoing drama in a gripping way. Novacek’s piano part could be bleak and cavernous, while Josefowicz’s pizzicati and double-stoppings were always impressive. The ghostly violin scales towards the end, unfortunately, tended towards technical exercise. Digging into the ‘Allegro brusco’ second movement, Josefowicz set up an admirable and exciting dialogue with Novacek – it all just needed that extra injection of adrenalin to make it truly work. Yet the Andante began all F major delicacy, with the various subsequent mood changes well projected, and both Josefowicz and Novacek clearly enjoyed the rhythmic interplay of the finale.

Josefowicz has built up a reputation as an interpreter of the music of John Adams from her performances of his 1993 Violin Concerto. Road Movies is a 1995 violinistic postcript to that concerto. Adams describes the first movement as ‘a relaxed drive down a not unfamiliar road’ (it is marked, ‘Relaxed groove’). The expected minimalism is there, with a nervy violin part over a carpet of piano repeated patterns – it is an undemanding movement. For the second, marked ‘Meditative’, the violin’s G string has to be tuned down to an F – this is a gutsy, vast landscape, whose space is ably suggested by the piano part. The finale (with re-tuned lower string) is restless swing, Josefowicz clearly relishing the shifting accents. This was the climax to the recital – here Josefowicz is clearly at home, and she played with superb assurance.


Colin Clarke




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