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A Teaspoon of Melancholy Before a Cup of Good Cheer

04.04.08
Gil Shaham
The New York Times

The violinist Gil Shaham has been a constant presence in New York over the last two seasons, appearing as a chamber musician and as an orchestral soloist. Given his formidable technique as well as a big, singing tone and a sunny disposition, he is hardly in danger of wearing out his welcome. When he played in the Rose Theater on Wednesday night as part of the Great Performers series of Lincoln Center,  his program included works seldom encountered.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano by William Walton, for example, came from a period after World War II when Walton, a former young radical, was re-examining traditional classical forms. The work deviates from the three-movement standard, offering instead a wistful, lyrical opening movement and a set of playful variations on a pensive theme.

Mr. Shaham's playing was fittingly melancholy and capricious by turns. In the pianist Akira Eguchi he had a superlative partner: unfailingly responsive in gesture and tone, and impressive in his own right during solo passages.

Bach's Unaccompanied Sonata No. 2 in A minor is at the opposite end of the spectrum, both technically and temperamentally. Mr. Shaham's understated solemnity in the opening movement set the stage for a powerful, lucid account of the astonishing fugue that followed. The dancing Andante came as a sigh of relief.

In the Sonata "Pimpante," from 1966, the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo manages to combine the generous melodies of Iberian folk music with a Gallic suavity instilled by his French training. Mr. Shaham reveled in the work's high-flying songs, which Mr. Eguchi countered with arpeggios meant to evoke guitar.

The work's closing Allegro was especially appealing: a twinkling dance pricked by tiny dissonances, with violin glissandos seemingly well lubricated with whatever spirits were at hand. At one point Mr. Shaham's violin brayed like a mule; Mr. Eguchi responded with what sounded like a pair of sharp kicks.

Giddy spirits and raucous rhythms continued in three showpieces by another Spaniard, Pablo de Sarasate: "Zapateado," "Romanza Andaluza" and "Zigeunerweisen." Mr. Shaham unleashed his inner daredevil for these flamboyant trifles, holding just a bit in reserve for the inevitable encore: the Hungarian Dance No. 4 of Brahms, as arranged by Joseph Joachim.