Violinist Shaham brilliant in Shriver series opener Music: Never merely showing off, virtuoso mixes his stunning talent with an uncanny feel for lyricism in a breathtaking performance.

October 20, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Violinist Gil Shaham gave a spectacular account of his abilities Sunday evening in the first concert of the Shriver Hall series.

Spectacular is certainly the word that best applies to the closing piece on the printed program and to the encore that immediately followed it.

The first of these was a Fantasy on themes from "Carmen." There are several violinistic tours de force based on the Bizet opera, most famously those by Pablo Sarasate, which was written for himself, and by Franz Waxman, which was written for Heifetz. But the version Shaham used topped them all. He accomplished this feat by combining the Sarasate and Waxman transcriptions with the less familiar "Fantasie Brillante" of Erno Hubay, which the 27-year-old Shaham has himself recorded on his recent DG album "The Fiddler of the Opera."

This concoction was a little like gilding the gilt on the lily. But Shaham performed this everything-including-the-kitchen-sink hodge-podge brilliantly, without so much as working up a sweat over the multiple stops, difficult string-crossings and the crazy-quilt variety of bowings this hybrid demanded. This was more than empty virtuosity, however. For all his brilliance,

Shaham is a predominantly lyrical player; no matter how stunning his feats of prestidigitation, his emphasis almost always falls upon making his instrument sing.

This emphasis was even true of his encore performance of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's paraphrase on "Largo al factotum," which was also written for (and edited by) Heifetz, an almost indescribably brilliant showpiece in which Shaham managed to suggest vocal as well as instrumental virtuosity.

Much of Shaham's program, performed with superb pianist Akira Eguchi, was culled from his recent albums -- not only "The Fiddler of the Opera," but also "American Scenes," recorded with Andre Previn at the piano. The big work on that CD, as it was on this recital, was Previn's Sonata for Violin and Piano ("Vineyard").

It is quite literally a big work -- lasting almost 30 minutes and requiring a good deal of virtuosity from both performers in its three movements. It is a work that shows off the composer's jazz heritage and his innate lyricism.

But despite many lovely things -- a powerful melodic line in the opening movement, a seductive waltz theme in the final one and some thrilling writing for both instruments throughout -- there is nothing about this sonata to suggest Martha's Vineyard (upon which Previn makes his home in the summer and from which the sonata takes its subtitle) or to suggest that anyone would want to hear it more than once.

Shaham and Eguchi played it brilliantly, however, as they did everything else on the program, including works by Bach, Prokofiev, Copland and Vasa Prihoda's transcription of the waltz sequence from Strauss' "Rosenkavalier."

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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