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Gil Shaham's quiet moments shine in strong collaboration

Gil Shaham
Washington Post

By Joan Reinthaler

Gil Shaham brought a clear and agile performance to Strathmore Oct. 30. (Photo by J. Henry Fair) Violinist Gil Shaham's solo performance of the Bach Partita No. 2, and particularly its concluding Chaconne, may have brought his audience to its feet roaring with pleasure at Strathmore Music Center on Sunday, but it was the subtlety of the rest of the program that spoke most eloquently.

Years ago, in one of his earliest appearances in this area, it was clear that Shaham reveled in the intimacy of a close musical collaboration. He has found a worthy and like-minded musical partner in pianist Inon Barnatan. Together, in addition to the Bach, they offered performances of the Schubert Sonatina in A Minor and the Franck Sonata in A Major that communicated their process of sharing understanding and creativity as powerfully as they communicated the shapes of the music.

Nothing showed this better than the quiet urgency of the opening phrases of the Schubert, first in the piano and then mirrored in the violin, with both playing on the front edge of every beat and then relaxing into a comfortable Allegro. The two played off each other like dancers, molding rhythms gracefully, and spoke most powerfully in the quietest passages (which were many in this concert). The Franck brought an opportunity for broad lyricism (often couched in the quietest possible terms) and highlighted Shaham's bow arm and ability to draw out what seemed, at times, to be an infinitely long bow.

Stunningly clear and agile as it was, there were some things to quibble about in Shaham's reading of the Bach  tempos, in particular. The Courante was exceptionally fast. Yes, courante means running  but it is, after all, a dance, and Shaham's tempo made it a chase. Speed also robbed the Gigue of its vital sense of rhythmic inevitability, but, in the end, the concluding Chaconne triumphed.

For an encore, he danced through a movement of another Schubert Sonatina.