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Violinist and pianist form team to produce some beautiful music

05.19.10
Jennifer Koh & Shai Wosner , Shai Wosner, Jennifer Koh
Buffalo News

By Mary Kunz Goldman

The enchanting young violinist Jennifer Koh was in town to perform in recital Tuesday night for the prestigious Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series.

But really, it was pianist Shai Wosner’s recital as much as it was hers.

Wosner and Koh are quite a team. They played a program beautiful in its simplicity—first Mozart, then Schubert, then Schubert, then Mozart. With a Beethoven encore. Was this heaven? I wanted to pinch myself.

They have different looks — Koh is coiffed and glamorous, while Wosner is owlish and intellectual — but musically, they are immaculately matched. Every sixteenth note was on target. They had every tricky rhythm down pat, every sculpted silence. They entered on the same nanosecond. It was thrilling to hear.

The Israeli-born Wosner has a lovely singing tone, a delicate way of connecting or detaching his notes that balances hers perfectly. He is a dream of a partner. I hope she treats him well and they never have a fight. It is a cold world out there, and I do not know if she would be able to find another like him.

Koh, too, is a player of utmost delicacy. She plays in long lines, like a singer who doesn’t need to take a breath. Her bow sails gently over the strings of that creamy-toned 1727 Strad. Except when she really attacks the music, as she does sometimes. Then it sparks and hisses.

The night began with Mozart’s Sonata in F, K. 377. This is one of history’s most unjustly neglected works. You never hear it. It has a strangely hypnotic slow movement, a theme and variations on a haunting minor theme. You know there will be a moment when it goes into the major, and in this team’s hands, that moment was spellbinding. So was the coda that ended the movement. Wosner’s silken chromatic lines were a pleasure.

Two Schubert sonatinas followed, Op. 137 No. 2 and then, after intermission, No. 1. The music was impeccably shaped but at the same time unfussy, with an almost improvisatory feel. Both musicians made the most of the soaring melodies, the simple, almost Mozartean beauty.

Mozart’s intense Sonata K. 454 ended the night. Again the slow movement was the highlight. Wosner’s rolled chords, gorgeously calibrated, melded beautifully with the violin’s songlike tone. The last movement’s finale brought a breathtaking display of tight virtuosity.

This piece took some sweat, and in this up-close setting you could feel the exertion, the down-to-the-wire coordination, the scrape of the bow on the strings. Talk about a fireworks ending.

The Scherzo movement from Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 7 brought the night to an elegant, upbeat close.

This closes the Ramsi P. Tick Concert Series for this season. It resumes in the fall, with a solo, all-Liszt recital by pianist Andre Watts.

He has a tough act to follow.