Inflections: Proustian and Jazzy

02.25.10
Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

Many composers have considered the piano and violin natural soul mates, but Ravel deemed them essentially incompatible. He said that instead of reconciling their differences in his Sonata for Violin and Piano, he would emphasize their independence.

The work is one of several jazz-influenced scores that Ravel composed in the 1920s, impressed by the African-American jazz bands he heard in Paris. The sonata finished a recital by Jeremy Denk and Joshua Bell on Wednesday evening at Carnegie Hall.

The two musicians offered a subtly shaded, evocative interpretation of the spare-textured piece, which alludes to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” in its second movement, “Blues: Moderato,” and in the concluding “Perpetuum Mobile: Allegro.”

Frequent collaborators, these fine musicians are sympathetic chamber partners, although they follow different paths as solo musicians. Mr. Denk often offers more eclectic and adventurous fare than Mr. Bell, who tends to focus on romantic and early-20th-century music in recitals.

Mr. Bell rarely performs Bach in public, while Mr. Denk is a superb Bach interpreter. The program opened with Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in C minor, although in it the partnership seemed less cohesive than in the romantic works on the program.

Schumann and Saint-Saëns offered a showcase for Mr. Bell’s gleaming tone and virtuosity. After meeting the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, Saint-Saëns was inspired to compose many works for the violin. Mr. Denk and Mr. Bell gave a passionate performance of the Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, which Proust alludes to in “Remembrance of Things Past.” There were plenty of fireworks in the whirlwind of the concluding movement.

The program also featured a lovely rendition of Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, with an ideal balance between stormy and intimate sections, a reflection of the alter egos that Schumann identified in his journals as the fiery Florestan and the gentle Eusebius.

The enthusiastic audience was rewarded with an encore: a soulful rendition of Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of Dvorak’s “Slavonic Fantasy,” a popular choice.