“False start,” announced esteemed violinist Gil Shaham after a bar of Preludio from Partita No. 3 in E Major, “sorry.” Can you remember the last time you ever encountered such a “crash” on a concert stage the likes of Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory? Next, only seconds later, we were plunged into an electrifying Preludio at a speed defying all probabilities, no exaggeration. “Wow!” That’s what flared up around the hall and so did a burst of applause for that one movement. Never mind it just being electrifying, though, it was at the same time utterly eloquent down to the very last detail. And we Americans exposed to Blue Grass and such have an additional advantage of following Bach à la Shaham as, dare we say, an “extreme fiddler.” Wow! Yes, that would be the way to put it. What a mix, what a treat! What could follow that act?
The Loure followed. Next, the Gavotte en Rondeau, Minuets I and II, Bourée and Gigue. During this sequence of dances that the 18th century Bach turned into a pure expression of musical joy, Shaham made it clear that his voice was of the 21st century. Technical reach and musical sculpting while most admirable, even more of the time most amazing, overtook what is lyrical, poetic, or magical. His efforts might be described as superhuman expression at superhuman speeds. Gil Shaham excels in everything virtuosic. While hearing every note and nuance, I became more and more exhausted. Energized, I would say, I was not.
Sunday’s Celebrity Series concert began with Franz Schubert’s Sonatina in A minor for Violin and Piano, D 385, dating from 1816 when the composer was still in his teens. Accompanist Akira Eguchi and Shaham exerted phenomenal control elucidating the classically formed and romantically leaning 20-minute work. Eternal elegance ruled over feelings of an earthly kind.
The second half of the concert maintained the same high strung play that would make listeners believe they were really hearing a performance honed for a compact disk, one perfect in all of its parameters. While this listener could survive on Eguchi and Shaham, Schubert and Bach, such would not be the case with contributions by 21st century composers William Bolcom, Julian Milone, and Avner Dorman. And now another question arises: why these pieces? One answer is that Bolcom’s piece was co-commissioned by the Celebrity Series.
The egregious eclecticism that Bolcom has us endure was untenable. Where his nine movements of his 2011 Suite No. 2 for Solo Violin (East Coast premiere as printed in the fine concert booklet) were going or coming, who knew? Perhaps some of his ardent admirers could set me straight. “Morning Music” and “Tempo di Gavotte” went on and on this way and that. “Lenny in Spats” was cute stuff—and yes, predictably, drew a little “Oooh” out of the less-than-half-filled Jordan Hall.
Welcome nostalgic movie type scenes in Milone’s In the Country of Lost Things…finally expelled artifice, allowing atmosphere and warmth, relief from the super-dramatic, which Shaham, Eguchi, and young composer, Dorman, would apply in his 2012 Nigunim (Violin Sonata No. 3 ), which was a quite windbag full of contrivances. Once again, how many times do we need to sit on edge for this note or that to end the piece?