Violinist Adds Intimate Stage to a Concert Hall Week

03.02.11
Inon Barnatan
The New York Times

By Allan Kozinn

Between her last two performances of the Britten Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic, Janine Jansen played a Monday evening recital at Le Poisson Rouge with the pianist Inon Barnatan. Mr. Barnatan is nearly as busy as Ms. Jansen. Having played a recital of his own on Sunday, he still had to perform music by James MacMillan as part of a Making Music program at Zankel Hall on Wednesday evening.

Both of these young musicians seemed energized by the informality of the setting, and Ms. Jansen said as much between pieces. She likened the club to the Broadway Cafe, a similar enterprise in Vienna where, she said, she and colleagues had played chamber music well into the night during the years she lived there.

The recital celebrated the release of Ms. Jansen’s latest CD, “Beau Soir,” a mostly French program (on Decca), and included a few of the pieces from the disc, as well as Franck’s A major Sonata, which is not on it. Ms. Jansen and Mr. Barnatan began with Ravel’s Sonata in G, a piece ideally suited to a Greenwich Village club, given its central “Blues” movement. They played it, with its bent pitches and fluid tempos, as if the blues were — at least for the moment — their musical mother tongue.

Elsewhere in the Ravel, Ms. Jansen’s centered tone and rich vibrato and Mr. Barnatan’s precise, crystalline sound yielded a refined intensity that put the “Blues” movement in its Parisian perspective. That quality also served Messiaen’s “Thème et Variations” particularly well. Its plaintive theme, stated with a disarming gracefulness, gradually expands into the sort of soaring but firmly controlled line that animated Ms. Jansen’s account of the Britten a few days earlier, supported here by tolling piano chords voiced with the light dissonances Messiaen used to evoke celestial grandeur.

Richard Dubugnon, a Swiss composer whom Ms. Jansen commissioned to write three pieces for her CD, was on hand to introduce one of them, “Retour à Montfort-l’Amaury.” The title refers to the Paris suburb where Mr. Dubugnon spent three days composing in Ravel’s home. The piece is, not surprisingly, suffused with Ravel’s spirit, but the lyrical themes are Mr. Dubugnon’s own and are driven by a playful, modern sensibility.

Ms. Jansen and Mr. Barnatan closed the program with a shapely, dynamically fluid reading of the Franck, and as an encore, Debussy’s “Beau Soir.” Unlike many classical performers at Le Poisson Rouge they played without amplification, and they sounded all the better for it. Their extreme pianissimo playing in the Ravel and the Franck drew listeners in, and they were perfectly audible at the back of the room. If anything, the lack of amplification heightened the sense of intimacy that has been one of Le Poisson Rouge’s attractions.