Mstation Classical Reviews

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Sat, 02 Sep 2006

Josefowicz Recital


CD 1
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Theme and Variations [10.20]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G major [18.32]
Mark GREY (b.1967)
San Andreas Suite for solo violin [11.51]

CD 2
Esa-Pekka SALONEN (b.1958)
Larchen Verlernt for solo violin [10.40]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin sonata No 10 in G major Op96 [29.16]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Scherzo in c minor [5.19]
Leila Josefowicz – violin; John Novacek - piano
rec Jan 2005, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, USA
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61948-2 [2 CDs] 

This is a varied recital programme that Leila Josefowicz and John Novak had been touring for some time in the USA before recording it in early 2005. Two well-filled discs make for a substantial exploration of the violin and piano repertoire, but whether the programme works as well in the recorded format as it would on stage is perhaps rather more questionable. There is certainly no question about the quality of the performances or of the musicianship. Josefowicz rapidly established herself as one of the world’s outstanding violinists after making a debut at Carnegie Hall, New York, at the age of only 16. She does have the advantage of a 1724 Guarneri violin to play with, an instrument of incomparable richness and beauty of tone. Conversely John Novacek is one of those pianists whose name is not necessarily well-known, but whose biography reads like a Who’s who of the great and the good in classical music, having co-operated with, accompanied or indeed composed for just about everybody from Isaac Stern to Diana Ross. Clearly the empathy between these two has built up over several years of performance together and their recording illustrates the perfection of the concept of chamber music. In the Beethoven sonata there is an intimacy of performance that draws the listener in. The Brahms Scherzo that ends the programme has something of the feel of the encore about it, but the performance is so well attuned, both to the music and between the players, that the serious importance of the work is clear as well.

More challenging is the inclusion of several contemporary works that possibly loose something in the recording process where the immediate communication of live performance is impossible to replicate. These are all good works, but one wonders about the juxtaposition of the two unaccompanied works by Mark Grey and Esa-Pekka Salonen, one at the end of the first disc, the other following immediately at the start of the second. The Grey San Andreas Suite was written for Josefowicz, but the work itself seems to wander somewhat through a range of voices and styles without coming to any apparent conclusions. The obsession with rhythmic complexity that is so beloved of modern composers makes an appearance, but without appearing to have much to say. The Salonen is more successful a work in this respect, but still makes a considerable demand on the listener’s faculties that would be much easier to achieve in a live situation. Nonetheless, Josefowicz’s performance shows all the dazzle and control for which she is famed.

Early 20th century works open the recital, the great sonata in G by Maurice Ravel being the highlight of the first disc. Once again, there is a tightness of ensemble and intention demonstrated between these two players at every level. Although styled here as Violin Sonata in G this is really one of those works that should be called Sonata for piano and violin thus underlining more clearly the true relationship between the parts. The Messiaen variations will not be to everybody’s taste, but this is music that is full of luminous colour, captured here with wonderful clarity.

Informative and detailed booklet notes accompany this double disc, spoiled only by a cover portrait of Josefowicz in a dreadful retro-seventies green bucket chair on a purple carpet and wearing pink snakeskin shoes against a random design cream and purple curtain. The cover is already starting to look dated. Fortunately the music within will stand the test of time rather better.

© Peter Wells 2006

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