Leila Josefowicz & John Novacek at Wigmore Hall: dark works
When I got the ticket for this concert at Wigmore Hall with Leila Josefowicz and John Novacek very in advance I did it mostly interested on the Prokofiev violin sontata Op.80 and the one by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. The inclusion on the programme of two arrangements for violin and piano of two very popular works (Sibelius Valse Triste and the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th) looked to me less appealing.
On my way to the Wigmore Hall I realized the pattern across all the works in the programme. Prokofiev violin sonata is one of its darkest works. Most of the music from Zimmermann is predated with pessimism. Sibelius Valse Triste is… that, triste, sad. And the Adagietto from Mahler 5th symphony has been used as funeral music much more than the proper Funeral March from the first part of the symphony.
Starting with Sibelius Valse Triste turned out to be a very good idea. The magnificent performance by Josefowicz got all the audience engaged in just a few minutes. She played it with extreme beauty but keeping it strong and very intense. She made me forget the squashy performance, full of portamenti, that Barenboim did as an encore during the last Proms.
Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1 is a frightening work. I had the feeling that after the first movement, told with the perfect aggressiveness that it demands by Josefowicz and Novacek, the audience was a little bit overwhelmed. Then the Allegro introduced the poetry and we all started to enjoy the beauty of darkness. Although technically perfect we never had the impression of pure virtuosity but natural playing. The andante calmed down the mood to achieve a full climax on the last movement. One of the best performances of this sonata I have ever heard.
Calices by Kaija Saariaho was unknown to me. But having heard many other works by Saariaho I was sure that it would be a pretty solvent piece of music. It turned out to be also very nice. As most of her works basics harmonies develop as different textures in imaginative and pleasant ways. The piano part alternated normal keyboard playing with Novacek pinching the piano chords with his hands.
We confirmed how intelligent is Josefowicz playing the the arrangement of the Adagietto from Mahler 5th symphony. Reducing the vast mahlerian orchestration to two instruments is always going to be a big lost leaving a pure melodic work. To make it harder this was the most melodic work from Mahler. But Josefowicz managed to simulate the different orchestral textures and how they combine in different overlapping layers in Mahler orchestra using an amazing variety of violin playing colours using every possible techinque for it. It was amazing how she changed the vibrato as a way of modulating the speech.
The Sonata For Violin And Piano is an early work from Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Still far from the later 12-tone or serialism it is neither a purely neoclassical work. The first movement, with reminiscences to Bartok, is predated with dark humor and transmits a joyful pessimism. Here Novacek shined even more than before as the work put him in a more font page. The final was the apotheosis of perfectly built playing releasing all the tension that they smartly managed.
So this was a very interesting programme, very smart, deeply touching and very well played. If you happen to be in one of the cities where this formidable pair or musicians is doing it (Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Washington, D.C.) do not miss it. You won’t regret.