Proms Chamber Music – 2 (Leila Josefowicz)

Thème et Variations
Violin Sonata in G
Road Movies

Leila Josefowicz (violin) & John Novacek (piano)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 25 July, 2005
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

For the second Proms Chamber Music concert, the soloist from the Royal Albert Hall’s Saturday night sell-out returned, again in her shimmering turquoise skirt and sky-blue top (perhaps apt for a programme that included Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony, less pertinent for John Adams’s Road Movies powering across arid portions of America) for a tripartite lunchtime Prom which moved from France to America.

Accompanied by regular pianist John Novacek, Leila Josefowicz’s programme essayed its own journey from Messiaen’s rapt and contemplative wedding present for his first wife, the violinist Claire Delbos – the early and rather ‘looking back’ Thème et Variations – via Ravel’s more tautly structured Violin Sonata (finished only five years before Messiaen’s work) to a modern musical travelogue, Adams’s Road Movies.

Josefowicz is a strong violinist who, while able to soften her tone in the high reaches of the Messiaen, can also get more earthy in Ravel’s middle-movement ‘Blues’ and have the stamina to keep his ‘moto perpetuo’ finale going.

Most impressive was Adams’s Road Movies – which Josefowicz and Novacek have recorded (Nonesuch 7559-79699-2) – his wry humour infecting not only the choice of titles (‘Relaxed Groove’; ‘Meditation’; ‘40% Swing’) but the also music itself. Curious in that it was commissioned by the Library of Congress, Washington DC (driving and libraries simply don’t go together in my book – no pun intended), the idea that ‘Relaxed Groove’ is a well-known journey regularly driven (hence the quasi-rondo form), that ‘Meditation’ finds a solitary figure in an empty desert landscape and that ‘40% Swing’ is – in Adams’s own words – “for four-wheel drives only” does come through in the music.

After such high-octane excitement, as an encore Josefowicz and Novacek offered Claus Ogermann’s arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile (from “Modern Times”).

The recital is rebroadcast on Saturday 30 July on BBC Radio 3 at midday and available online until Monday.

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