Sunday at Pick-Stagier Concert Hall in Evanston, Midwest Young Artists Conservatory’s fall concerts were dubbed “Fantastique”, a reference to the sole work performed by the Symphony Orchestra under Dr. Allan Dennis, and an apt description of the remarkably high quality of the musical offerings on display by all of the superb ensembles of young musicians.
The evening program began with a varied and bracing set of tunes from the MYAC Big Band. With director Drew Hansen taking a break from his duties for his nuptials the previous day, it fell to Alex Blomarz to lead the combo through four numbers that highlighted the seamless ensemble work and imaginative solo capabilities of its members.
Steve Slagle’s arrangement of Charles Mingus’ Fables of Faubus began with low, bluesy growls from the trombones and tenor saxophones, while drummer Eli Goroff-Behel took the group in and out of double time. Riichiro Fujiko was the imaginative trombone soloist, pianist Sebastian Ingrino peppered the texture with thick chords, and the fine bassist Evan Dietrich began his terrific solo turn with an immediate leap to the upper register.
Blomarz went for a laid back, deeply swinging tempo for Bennie Moten’s Moten Swing (arranged by Sammy Nestico). The wide dynamic range was a big selling point in its irresistible appeal, as were the solos by tenor sax player Nikhil Devauptapu and trumpet player Asher Baron. The highlights of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s Such Sweet Thunder were the funky plunger mutes in the trumpet section as well as the inspired solos from trombone player Stephen Paul and alto sax player Takeru Satoh.
In what is surely the most surprising work I’ve ever heard programmed by a jazz ensemble, the band then performed their own arrangement of the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major (Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen). This movement is based on a minor key transformation of a European folk song known most popularly as Frére Jacques. From the opening bars, their version came across not so much as an arrangement as it did a complete transformation, bending it to the particular strengths of the jazz idiom and varying in mood from whimsically playful to earnestly solemn. They played on the tunes’ major/minor duality with relish, and distant echoes of klezmer seemed to waft through the texture from time to time during faster tempos. Soloists Timmy Wilcox (trombone) and John Pinns (baritone saxophone) provided impish solos in this unusual context, and a loose, sustained cadenza with group improvisation was one of many high points.
There are few works in the orchestral canon that changed the course of musical history more definitively than Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Never before had a grand symphony been written that had so explicitly been based on a program, let alone from a country with so little symphonic tradition, and conductor Allan Dennis helped the audience navigate the story line with thumbnail summaries of the composer’s fevered imagination. But it was up to Dr. Dennis’ firm hand at the podium and the students’ full-blooded commitment that really brought the sprawling score to life.
The opening of the first movement (Réveries, Passions) was deceptively innocent, with shimmering lines from the upper strings and woodwinds, eventually giving way to quicker passages from the splendid violins and dark, brooding utterances from the low strings. Ryan Burns played a haunting French horn solo, and flutist Christine Lee floated effortlessly above the lustrous woodwinds in tutti sections. Dennis drew a beautifully hushed sonority from the strings and woodwinds in the final prayerful section.
The second movement (Un bal) takes the form of a dreamy waltz, and after an ominous introduction from the harps and lower strings, the violins spun the principal tune, after which oboist Brendan Hogan expressively intoned the idée fixe. After a delightful clarinet solo form Eric Butler, Dennis lead the orchestra through a hard charging accelerando to the final rambunctious bars.
The third movement (Scéne aux champs) began with a conversation in the country between two shepherds, depicted by the English horn and oboe (intoned plaintively by Hogan and Timothy Zhang). There were many long dynamic gradations that were expertly gauged by Dennis and his players. The rumbling of the timpani and the increasingly distressed shepherd’s calls lead the listeners directly into the fourth movement, Marche au supplice.
The horns and low brass set the stage for the impending execution, and Bailey Holman navigated the solo bassoon lines with amusing agility. The trumpet section was at their stentorian best as they kept the propulsive march moving inexorably forward. Nearly every section and soloist had a chance in the spotlight in the ghoulish finale Songe d’une nuit du sabbat (Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath), including nearly every instrument in the orchestra’s dextrous percussion section. The famous Dies Irae (Days of Wrath) plainchant melody was heard to chilling effect by tuba player Mason Goldbaum. Dr. Dennis brought out the movement’s sound effects with care and clarity (the bone clacking skeletons of the string sections’ col lego in particular), and the audience of parents and students responded with justifiable enthusiasm.
And so the MYAC was off and running with another season of Fantastique musical pleasures.
Every year during the holiday season, when families re-unite and take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the calendar year, a group of young musicians and seasoned judges get down to serious business at the the Midwest Young Artists Conservatory Fort Sheridan home base for the annual Walgreens Competition. This event is a highlight of the competition circuit, and the MYAC Symphony Orchestra concerts in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall that feature two of the winners always stand out among the many youth orchestra performances in the Chicago area.
The winner of the Overall Open Division was James Baik, a senior cellist at New Trier High School and student of Hans Jensen. His performance of the first movement of the Schumann concerto was so utterly assured that one had to continually remind oneself of his young age.
This concerto is considered more intimate than some other cello concertos (Dvorak, Saint Saëns, Elgar, etc.), but Baik’s interpretation was muscular, full-blooded and profoundly extroverted. I can’t remember hearing a cellist of his age with such a vigorous, penetrating sound and intense, fully formed vibrato. The rapid-fire scales and other technical challenges were so easily vanquished that one could take them for granted and focus on the rhapsodic sweep of his interpretation. Balance can sometimes be an issue in this composers’ orchestration, but conductor Allan Dennis kept his forces in check while the cellist’s tone sailed effortlessly to the back of the hall. Mr. Baik is one to watch.
Bartok’s Viola Concerto from 1945 was his last major work, but the composer was unable to finish it due to failing health. His good friend Tibor Serly produced a finished version a few years later, but a newer one edited by the composer’s son Peter and violist Paul Neubauer was the one chosen by Dr. Dennis for this performance. Senior violist Ezra Burca, winner of the MYAC Senior Division and student of Desiree Ruhstrat, was the superb soloist.
One doesn’t often encounter the works of Bartok in competitions for young musicians, but Burca’s dramatically urgent and deeply focused account of the first movement of the composer’s Concerto for Viola made a case for more frequent entries. The movement begins with the violist’s lyrical lines with only a barebones accompaniment. Burca drew a lovely, burnished sound from his instrument, and seemed entirely comfortable with the awkward passagework. The cadenza was beautifully shaped, with the difficult double stops coming off without a hitch. The orchestra provided precise, supportive accompaniment, with bassoons and double basses being especially noteworthy.
Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday last year provided a good excuse (if any were needed) to survey the American composer’s most beloved works. Among his more substantial orchestra works, the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story are easily the most programmed. This collection may not pack the virtuosic wallop of some of MYAC’s other orchestral ventures recently (Stravinsky, Strauss, Prokofiev, etc), but any convincing performance stands or falls on the understanding of the stylistic idiosyncrasies. On this point, the orchestra was spot-on.
Dr. Dennis captured the angular, swinging, and sultry spirit of the prologue with idiomatic aplomb, finger pops and all. Here and elsewhere, MYAC’s tireless percussion section drove the action hard. “Somewhere” is one of the composer’s most seductive tunes, and the orchestra’s strings excelled in carving out the melodic contours. Allan turned to the house a couple of times in “Mambo” to encourage audience participation, and trumpets (muted and otherwise) dug into the theme with raucous abandon.
The string pizzicatos in “Cha-cha” were perfectly coordinated with the woodwinds, and concertmaster Christopher Gottardi-Littell gave a lush account of the violin solo. The “Cool fugue” has never sounded cooler, and the menacing “Rumple” reached for the rafters. A full minute passed in silence after the finale, so moved were the parents by the poignant performance.
The concert opened with a robust account of Festive Overture by Shostakovich, a crowd favorite and an uncharacteristically cheerful work by the Russian master. Its’ popularity with youth orchestras is due in part to orchestration that allows nearly everyone in the orchestra to shine. With virtuosity to spare in every section, Dr. Dennis lead an ebullient, driving reading that delighted the audience from start to finish. The superb trumpet section signaled a musical call-to-arms that was picked up with elfish charm by clarinetist Eric Butler. Swirling flutes in octaves, led by principal Cecillia Gao, lead to a bold statement of the main theme by the splendid violins. Low brass and cellos excelled in their time in the spotlight, and the busy percussion section kept the ensemble in tight synchronization.
MYA’s Sizzling Scheherazade
Conductor Allan Dennis isn’t shy about tackling some of the most substantial and challenging works in the orchestral repertoire when programming for his Midwest Young Artists Conservatory Symphony Orchestra. Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Rachmaninoff’s Second, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and a few Strauss tone poems are among the many towering works he and his young musicians have tackled with a maturity and technical acumen well beyond what can be reasonably expected from high school aged artists.
Sunday at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston, Dr. Dennis added another big showpiece to the MYAC repertoire with a superb account of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ever popular warhorse, Scheherazade. As expected, the reading was energized with the infectious exuberance and raw vitality audiences have come to expect from the orchestra. But, in a promising sign in this first concert of the 2018/2019 season, all of this was dispatched with a level of polish a step above the already high standards established in a quarter century of music-making.
Not only were string and wind tuttis confident and tightly secured, but the scoring of this Russian masterpiece provided a showcase for MYA’s distinguished principal players. To a person they were up to the task, with beautifully rendered solo passages peppering the 45 minute performance.
Rimsky-Korsakov called his sprawling work a symphonic suite, rather than a symphony, reflecting his use of loose structures rather than traditional forms such as sonata, scherzo, and rondo. His inspiration was One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabic folk tales compiled over many centuries by various authors from the 8th to the 14th centuries. The original tale that frames the stories involves the ruler Shahryar and his wife Scheherazade. In this lurid and violent backstory, Shahryar learns of the infidelities of his brother’s wife as well as his own, who he kills in retribution for her unfaithfulness. Believing all women to be thus inclined, he proceeds to marry a succession of virgins only to murder them before they have a chance to stray. Finally he marries Scheherazade, who is able to survive by telling the jealous king an engrossing tale without providing an ending. He is thus compelled to show mercy so that the tale will continue to unfold.
Rimsky-Korsakov was a master of orchestral color, memorable tunes, and opulent harmonies, characteristics in full flower in the opening movement, The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship. From the stentorian opening brass outpouring and the gently ringing woodwind choir, it was clear that parents and friends in the audience were in for a treat.
More than perhaps any other grand orchestral showpiece, Scheherazade relies on a strong roster of principal players for a compelling interpretation. Primus inter pares in the parade of virtuosos is the concertmaster, who is in many ways is the expressive lifeblood of the work, with lyrical and virtuosic statements that rival some of the showiest passages in violin concertos. Liam Diethrich was more than up to the task, with a luscious and penetrating sound that set a high expressive standard in his deeply poignant opening cadenza. Diethrich also had a superb supporting cast of committed first and second violinists. Some of the most memorable moments were those that combined both violin sections for dramatic unisons that easily filled the hall even as the rest of the ensemble played full bore.
Cellist Haoming Song’s initial solo passages may have been “mere” accompaniments to the superb solos of horn player Ryan Burns, oboist Timothy Zhang, and flutist Lucy Rubin, but the eloquent arpeggios were a delight in their own right. Song soon took up melodic duties himself, trading well-turned phrases with Zhang and clarinetist Eric Butler.
Diethrich graced the opening bars of The Tale of Prince Kalendar with another soaring solo, enriched by the graceful accompaniment of harpist Lerin Peterson. Nick Nocita’s mournful bassoon solo was pure magic, and another series of solos was interrupted by a new, martial theme delivered with vigor by trombonist Katherine Koeppen and trumpet player Anubis Martinez Ruiz.
The third movement, The Young Prince and the Princess, opens and closes with one of the composer’s most tender entreaties, and Dr. Dennis coaxed a passionate tone from his massed strings, while the long, rippling arabesques of Butler and Rubin were spellbinding. The finale (Festival at Bagdad; The Sea; The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock) recaps many of the highlights of the previous movements, and MYAC’s superb brass and percussion sections propelled much of the forward momentum.
Rimsky-Korsakov didn’t submit a detailed program for this dazzling musical travelogue of the ancient Islamic world, but Dennis and his young forces delivered such a vivid performance that the mind couldn’t help but conjure any number of dazzling scenes. The performance was an unforgettable start to the season, and an encouraging sign of great musical adventures to come.
The Lang Lang International Music Foundation is now in its second decade of extraordinary public service, including the establishment of partnerships with organizations dedicated to instilling a drive for musical excellence in young people across the globe. None of these collaborations has been more fruitful than their partnership with Midwest Young Artists Conservatory. Each summer in August, MYAC plays host to several of these remarkable young pianist/scholars for week, making music, breaking bread, and engaging in every manner of cultural exchange. Normally there are a few holdovers from previous summers among the soloists, but this year all eight were newcomers.
Conductor Allan Dennis was at the podium Sunday afternoon once again with his MYAC Symphony Orchestra at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, introducing budding pianists and engaging in conversation with each before launching into selections from several canonic piano concertos. The students shared thoughts about their time in Chicago, from card-playing with fellow scholars to the enormous portions of food served up Midwest style.
Before the soloists took to the stage, Dr. Dennis led his orchestra in an ebullient account of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. The statements of the snaking theme in octaves were neatly rendered by the orchestra’s superb woodwinds and strings.
It was a perfect appetizer before thoroughly compelling performances of the last two movements of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major. 13-year-old Hong Kong native Wilson Lung gave a polished and remarkably flexible reading of the Adagio, adopting a leisurely tempo that allowed him to tenderly sculpt the composer’s poignant, singing lines. Shuheng Zhang, hailing from Michigan, gave an invigorating, incisive, and note-perfect account of the finale, establishing an agreeable report with Dr. Dennis as they exchanged pleasantries in the composer’s conversational rondo.
Victor Shlyakhtenko, a 16-year-old award-winning artist from Los Angeles, already has performances at Walt Disney Concert Hall and Carnegie Hall to his credit. He gave a winning performance of the Andante of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, spinning long melodic lines with warmth and tenderness.The finale of the concerto is unabashedly virtuosic, with fist-fulls of blistering passagework and rapid-fire octaves. It stretches credulity to imagine a 12-year-old taming this monster, but Katerina Cheung of Hong Kong did just that, delivering immaculate scales with a robust sound, all while maintaining a crystalline transparency so necessary in the composer’s scores.
Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 bears some kinship with the Mendelssohn piano concertos (and shares the same key as the second), with its quick, boisterous arpeggios and ample melodic charm. And like the Mendelssohn, it was written in a comparative flash, over a three week period for the occasion of Anton Rubenstein’s conducting debut in Paris. While the composer famously disliked the concerto, it has become one of his most popular works. 13-year-old Chicago native and current Juilliard Pre-College student Aliya Marie Alsafa ably demonstrated its appeal, capturing the movement’s wit and joie de vivre with apparent ease.
The final three students in the showcase each performed a movement of another popular warhorse of the repertoire, Grieg’s Concerto in A minor. It was the first piano concerto ever recorded (in 1909), and was the only concerto completed by the composer. Though written at the tender age of 24, Grieg made revisions throughout his life, the last ones coming just a few weeks before his death. Folk elements abound in its melodies, and perhaps because of the outdoor setting for this concert, these qualities seemed amplified on this occasion.
From the opening timpani roll and the cascading keyboard octaves, 16-year-old New Yorker and Juilliard Pre-College student Jeffrey Chin had the full measure of the opening movement. He coaxed a full-throated sound from the concert grand, capturing Grieg’s grand gestures in impassioned outbursts.
After tranquil and hushed opening bars from the orchestra’s muted strings in the opening bars, Carey Byron (age 14) presented a searching, warm reading of the Adagio, tracing the melancholy melodic contours with grace and sensitivity. It’s little wonder that the Los Angeles native has picked up numerous prizes, including first prize at the Los Angeles Young Musician International Competition and second prize at the American Protégé International Competition, the latter leading to her debut in Carnegie Hall.
It was up to Jasper Heymann to close out the Grieg, and he rose to the occasion with an impassioned delivery of the final Allegro moderato. From the blistering opening flourishes to the breakneck pace of the first bristling melodies, the 15-year-old New Yorker and multiple competition winner was if full command, delivering a dazzling performance that brought the audience to their feet.
Dr. Dennis chose to conclude the program the same way it began, with an engaging reading of a seminal opera overture. He lead the young ensemble in a glowing, atmospheric account of Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz, an influential opera from 1821 that foreshadowed many characteristics of the looming Romantic style. The work is as much a tone poem as it is an overture and, as in the Grieg concerto, Dennis underlined the vivid folk references that inform much of the music. Special kudos to the horn section - their mellow, gleaming sound set the stage for an evocative performance that drew a justifiably enthusiastic response from the audience. Once again, listeners no doubt had to remind themselves repeatedly that the musicians on stage were students, not professionals, so thoroughly engrossing were the performances.
Midwest Young Artists Conservatory Winter Concert
Fresh off its remarkable 25th anniversary concert in Orchestra Hall this past December, where 300 or so current and former students celebrated in high style, the MYAC Symphony Orchestra was back to its normal routine, presenting its annual winter concert at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston. But with appearances by two extraordinary young winners of the 2017 Walgreens Concerto Competition, there was nothing remotely routine about the affair.
The first of the two winners to take the stage was 14-year-old pianist Joshua Mhoon, the overall winner of the open senior division of the competition. The Hyde Park native has made a name for himself in short order, with an earlier win in the 2015 Walgreens Competition, a guest spot with the Chicago Sinfonietta, and appearances at the Ravinia Festival, United Center, Pritzker Pavilion, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and many other notable venues in Europe.
Mhoon’s winning piece was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2, of which he treated the audience to a riveting account of the third movement. After Dennis led the orchestra in the delicate opening bars, Mhoon ripped into the opening piano bursts with bravura and panache, traversing much of the keyboard in a flash with fluid accuracy and an assertive sound. He didn't appear to have particularly large hands, yet he seemed to have little problem spanning the composer’s notoriously wide chords. Of the Russian composer’s many famously memorable tunes, none are more beloved than the long winded melody that appears a few minutes before the end of the concerto. The pianist had the full measure of it, sculpting the theme with a maturity rarely encountered in someone of such tender years. The following section again showed remarkable prestidigitation, the bulky chordal work not only rendered accurately, but with keen attention to voicing. The final statement of the melody was beautifully drawn by Dennis and his forces, and Mhoon brought the movement home with the appropriate swagger.
Cellist Adam Lee is no stranger to Midwest Young Artist Conservatory, being a student there himself. A native of South Korea, he studies with legendary pedagogue Hans Jansen and is currently a senior at Vernon Hills High Schools. He has excelled as a chamber musician, appearing most notably in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. But on this night he took center stage as soloist in the first cello concerto of Dmitri Shostakovich.
The third movement is in the unconventional form of an extended unaccompanied cadenza. One might expect impatience from a young player like Lee when unimpeded by a conductor and orchestra. But his strategically deliberate pacing worked wonders, drawing attention to a wide range of color and dynamics. Lee’s technique was masterful throughout the range of the instrument, whether sustaining a singing tone or traversing the composer’s full range of chords and double stops.
The transition into the finale steadily gained in intensity, and the opening bars were shot through with sardonic ferocity. Balance inequities are hard to tame e in this movement, but Dr. Dennis kept the textures sufficiently transparent for all voices to come through. The concluding pages were an exercise in controlled fervor, and the audience leapt to its feet at the bristling conclusion.
Like most American orchestras, Dennis chose to honor the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein with his most beloved short work, the overture to Candide. Like their performance in Symphony Center in December, it was a sparkling rendition, with piccolo player Meredith Golding one of the many in the woodwind section contributing some of the more memorable passages.
Woodwinds were at the forefront of the concluding work in the program, excerpts from Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2. The long crescendo in the opening movement, Lever de jour, (“daybreak”) was beautifully paced by Dennis and his forces, and the gurgling of the superb woodwinds (led by principal flutist Jonathan Wu and principal clarinetist Samuel Perlman) brought Ravel’s technicolor score to life in vivid hues.
Oboist Chloe Cardanas spun lovely lyrical phrases in Pantomime, and Wu excelled with exquisite tone color and breath control in the extended flute solo. The orchestra’s violins sounded as polished as ever in the shimmering chords and darting motivic jabs. The orchestra was joined by the fine singing of three of MYAC’s choral groups, Voices Rising, VocalPoint, and VX Ensemble, and their expressive voices soared from the rear balcony through the orchestral textures. Lower strings, and percussion, and percussion brought the luminous score to a grand finale.
(reprinted from Chicago Classical Review)
Symphony Center subscribers were no doubt crestfallen when the megastar duo of violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Martha Argerich cancelled their spring American tour. Even though Perlman’s best years are well behind him, the match offered intriguing intriguing possibilities for musical fireworks.
Judging by the reaction to their replacements, the audience felt they got their money’s worth with a varied program offered up by violinist and Illinois native Gil Shaham and pianist Akira Eguchi. The performances were well-executed and thoughtfully realized, and Shaham deserves credit for mixing some modern curveballs in with a healthy dose of standard repertoire.
Legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro (“In the Style of Paganini”) is meat and potatoes repertoire in violin pedagogy, but these days few big league violinists dust it off for the concert stage. It’s a beguiling work, and Shaham seemed to channel the playing of the master with the lush tone and sensuous portamentos of a by-gone era.
Kudos to the duo for thinking outside the box with the inclusion of two substantial works by contemporary American composers. The subtitles suggest the presence of musical references from Turkey and the middle east, but Scott Wheeler’s “The Singing Turk” (Sonata No. 2) from 2017 took inspiration instead from Larry Wolf’s book of the same title. The author muses on the the fascination for Turkish characters in European operas, and each movement of the sonata is based on specific personalities.
The first movement, “Su la sponda”, includes a quotation from Handel’s Tamerlano in which an imprisoned Turkish ruler sings to his daughter before committing suicide. Pointillistic gestures and single note ostinatos open the movement before neo-baroque harmonies mark the appearance of the theme.
The second draws on the 1761 opera The Three Sultanas by Paul-César Gibert in which Roxelana implores Suleiman the Magnificent to “defend yourself from becoming the slave of two beautiful eyes.” A passacaglia opens the movement, eventually sharing space with variations on Gibert’s aria.
If the first two movements meander unconvincingly, the tightly constructed perpetual motion finale (drawn from Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia) hits its mark with Eguchi and Shaham opening in muted colors before surging ahead with ever more virtuosic dialogue.
Avner Dorman’s “Nigunim” (Sonata No. 3) explicitly draws on non-Western elements, fusing material from various sacred and secular Jewish traditions with non-Jewish components from the same regions.
The most well-known reference to the nigum tradition in the violin repertoire comes from Bloch’s Baal Shem, and Dorman’s musical idiom can be heard as a modern extension of that composer’s evocations of Jewish musical traditions. The redolent opening movement unfolded with sustained drones, piquant dissonances, and impassioned outbursts from both players.
Georgian folk music was the impetus for the second movement, a scherzo of sorts, and the duo had great fun with the metric incongruities and flights of virtuosic fantasy. The muted opening of the third movement briefly suggests the listless phrase structures of Morton Feldman before submitting to more conventional lyrical impulses.
Moto perpetuo is again the preferred texture of this finale, with Shaham’s perfectly executed rapid-fire double stops and Eguchi’s disjunct chordal outbursts combining for an explosive realization. Inspired by Macedonian dances, echoes of Prokofiev and early Stravinsky pepper the score, and all of the cliches of middle eastern traditions are eagerly harvested. But for all of these references, Dorman has crafted a distinct personal style, and his idiomatic way with both instruments make for an easily accessible concert duo.
Bach’s E major Partita for solo violin was effectively dispatched by Shaham, and he mined his trademark tonal polish and effortless virtuosity to good effect in the opening prelude. But the remaining dance movements were a decidedly mixed bag, his penchant for nearly uninterrupted legato and unvaried articulations obscuring Bach’s clearly delineated architecture. He occasionally employed hushed dynamics to good effect, and his tasteful ornamentation in the Gavotte was artfully applied. But run-on sentences were the norm, lending his account an air of impatience that was exacerbated by the absence of even the smallest pauses between movements.
There is no more standard concert fare than Franck’s Sonata in A major, but Shaham and Eguchi managed to bring a freshness and vigor to the oft-trodden score. The understated opening bars in the first movement were vividly contrasted by the lyrical eruptions that followed, while the second unfolded with barely concealed fury.
There was a distinct operatic intensity to the third movement Recitativo-Fantasia, and the finale’s outpouring of sunny melodic gestures in canon lead to heroic final pages. Their partnership throughout was seamless and soulful, though there were occasions when Shaham remained in the foreground when the primary material was assigned to the piano.
“The Graceful Ghost Rag” by William Bolcom was the pleasant if mildly lethargic encore.