Shaham brings bite and beauty to Bartók with New World Symphony

Gil Shaham
South Florida Classical Review

A gentleman, Oscar Wilde once said, is a man who only gives offense on purpose.

By a similar standard, a violin virtuoso on the order of Gil Shaham only plays a harsh note when he intends to.

Through most of his performance of the Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 with the New World Symphony at the Arsht Center in Miami Saturday, Shaham played with the clean style and preternatural bow control for which he is known. But he knew when to bring a touch of Hungarian mountain fiddler to his playing, when he dug in to produce a grinding buzz when the concerto’s rapid passagework reached the violin’s lowest string.

With guest conductor Pablo Heras-Casado on the podium, Shaham gave a performance of the 1938 concerto that expressed all of its breadth, from its Romantic melodies to its modernistic rhythms and sizzling virtuosity. He played with a singing tone in the rhapsodic passages in the opening Allegro on the highest string–music that could have been heard in a 19th century concert hall, if the harmonies were toned down a bit. He brought a pensive lyricism to the movement’s warm dialogue with oboe and harp. He powered through the runs and chords of one of the most difficult concertos in the repertory with astonishing speed and accuracy, while giving these passages an electric energy.

In the Andante, violinist and orchestra came together for several minutes of music of quiet power, as the wind section wrapped Shaham’s melodies in glowing, unearthly,harmonies. In the concluding Rondo, Shaham sawed through rapid passages with more effective roughness, and took on the brass section convincingly with rapid ascending chords that range through the hall.

As an encore, he gave a stately, resonant account of the Gavotte and Rondo from Bach’s E Major Partita.
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