Review: A Violinist Connects the Dots From Bach to the Present
The rising musician Alexi Kenney juxtaposed Baroque and contemporary solo works in a recital that revealed a kinship among them.
By Joshua Barone
For his recital at the 92nd Street Y on Friday, the young violinist Alexi Kenney engaged in something like that pointless but nonetheless fun thought experiment: Which people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?
At this party, the guest of honor might be Bach — the looming Baroque master whose music, Mr. Kenney wrote in a program note, transcends its time to become something more spiritual, holistic and worldly. His works for solo violin are the summit for any student, though for many they remain a lifelong project.
Who else to invite? On Friday, Mr. Kenney, 26, assembled a group of seven more composers: one who predated Bach, and others who came long after. His hope, in putting together a program of selections from Bach’s sonatas and partitas alongside contemporary works, was that “a kinship between them will emerge,” he wrote.
So the Adagio from Bach’s Sonata No. 1 that opened Friday’s program had both remarkable clarity and feeling, with the lightness of a dance among clouds. If its humanity was barely hiding below the surface, then Mr. Kenney ripped it out in Gyorgy Kurtag’s brief “Ruhelos” from “Kafka Fragments” (1987), which shares the Bach’s double stops but adds the performer’s shouting voice.
Mr. Kenney closed the program by pairing Thuridur Jonsdottir’s “Inni” (2013) and the Chaconne from Bach’s Second Partita. “Inni” had some people in the audience giggling — it features a field recording of a baby, like Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” but somehow more endearing — yet it was one of the evening’s most beautiful works, the audio accompanied by Mr. Kenney’s intimate phrases of soft-spoken awe.
The Chaconne, however, was vastly more urgent. Mr. Kenney’s peaks and valleys of passion, and his more modern approach to the score, stood out even among his other interpretations of Bach. He made it seem, though, as if this were the only possible way to play the music: Because if “Inni” took a moment to marvel at life, then this Chaconne aimed to do no less than summarize its entirety.