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Music Review

Violinist Shaham's Recital Shows That He's a Serious Romantic

April 20, 1999|RICHARD S. GINELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For all of the fervent hype that has accompanied violinist Gil Shaham throughout most of the 1990s, he has not become complacent as he increasingly explores the 20th century from his Romantic base.

His latest CD is a fabulously clear rendering of the Bartok Violin Concerto No. 2 and Two Rhapsodies with Pierre Boulez and the Chicago Symphony (he plays the Bartok Concerto with the L.A. Philharmonic on May 6, 7 and 9 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion). And most of his recital at the Pavilion on Sunday night was devoted to a dead-serious dissertation on the Romantic influence in this waning century, with the spotlight on a recent work by former Philharmonic music director Andre Previn.

In the 1980s, Previn described himself modestly as a conductor who also liked to write music. Now he seems to be more determined to leave a legacy as a composer--and it's possible that he may be trying too hard. His Sonata for Violin and Piano, subtitled "Vineyard" because it was mostly written on Martha's Vineyard, strives earnestly to say something important yet never quite delivers. There seems to be a deeply troubled emotional core in this piece, yet it is expressed as a vague sense of angst, bathed in a generic 20th century Romantic language.

However, there is no doubt that the Sonata employs considerable technique and craft, giving plenty of opportunities for a virtuoso violinist to shine while not shortchanging the pianist. Shaham recorded the Sonata for DG with the composer at the piano four months before the live premiere, and his interpretation has grown more incisive and expressive since, searching through the piece's nooks and crannies while trying to highlight the emotional peaks.

Dipping briefly into the 19th century, Shaham spread his broad, plush tone and thick legatos all over the Brahms Sonata No. 2 in A, Opus 100, with self-effacing pianist Akira Eguchi serving as a submissive rather than equal partner. Shaham also applied a heavy brush to the Prokofiev Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Opus 80, but not so much as to stifle the bursts of raucous energy in the second and fourth movements, and he added the first of Prokofiev's Five Melodies as the second encore. The jazzy syncopations, slurping portamentos and madcap coda of the unidentified first encore provided the evening's only moments of levity.

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