There was a short recital by Gil Shaham and Adele Anthony to precede the penultimate Mostly Mozart concert of this season. They played Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins, Opus 56, with Shaham taking the secondo part. The violinists’ tones were not an ideal match; Anthony’s was light and direct whereas Shaham’s was darker and rounder. The performance had ample rhythmic vitality, but not the consistency required.
The composer’s ‘Classical’ Symphony was given a reading of unimaginable speed and clarity. The intimate scale of the orchestra allowed the winds to seamlessly carry over the strings, which is certainly not a given in David Geffen Hall’s troubled acoustic. The Gavotte third-movement was indulgent, but effective, and I was concerned that the first movement had been too fast to be topped, as Prokofiev intended, by the Finale; however, Louis Langrée found an even higher gear with flourish and aplomb and kept the larger phrases in focus, while drawing interesting quirks and well-defined counterpoint from the players.
Symphony No.25 by this festival’s namesake followed. Often called the ‘little G-minor’ to distinguish it from No.40 (K550, in the same key), Langrée called on a dramatic palette of colors, and shaped the work in such a way that it had wonderful symmetry between the outer movements and enlivens the structure, and the playing swarming and deliciously dark.
The concert’s second half featured Shaham in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Much of the orchestra’s contribution was operatic in scope, more Eugene Onegin than ‘Pathétique’ Symphony. Shaham was restless, wandering about and intensely demanding of exact tempos and specific inflections of rubato. There were multiple uncomfortable moments when he superseded the conductor, directing a section with assertive eye-contact, which invariably led to ensemble issues. One can excuse his adrenaline-addled speeds because he can pull them off. However, especially in the Finale, a few clicks slower on the metronome would have allowed the music to breath a touch more, and for more nuance than flash. As an encore Shaham offered the ‘Gavotte en Rondeau’ from Bach’s E-major Partita (BWV1006), with sensitivity and indefatigable technique.