By Lawrence Budmen

Gil Shaham occupies a special place among contemporary violinists. A brilliant technician with virtuosity to burn, Shaham is a musician of the most refined sensibilities who vividly brings to life the heartbeats that lay beneath the notes of a score. Earlier this season Shaham brilliantly essayed William Schuman’s formidable Violin Concerto with Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony. On Monday Shaham returned to South Florida when the Concert Association presented him as both violin soloist and leader of London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. 

The centerpiece of the program at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was a vivacious performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5 in A Major (Turkish). Shaham attacked the opening Allegro aperto with hair raising intensity. This was gutsy, characterful Mozart playing – the antithesis of the prosaic, thin toned performances by early music specialists. The sublime Adagio was exquisitely molded. Shaham spun waves of tone that were smooth as silk. A playful, fleet traversal of the final Rondo capped an indelible performance. Shaham’s boldly individualistic approach to Mozart was in the mold of the legendary Jascha Heifetz. Except for a brief horn fluff, the St. Martin in the Fields players offered vigorous support. 

Anton Arensky’s Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky was an engaging work for string ensemble. Arensky, a Tchaikovsky pupil, created a darkly elegiac score. In the 18th century tradition, the Academy performed without a conductor. With Shaham leading from the concertmaster’s seat, nineteen string players from the London ensemble offered a performance of Mozartean elegance and grace.

An orchestral version of Tchaikovsky’s sextet Souvenir de Florence received an effervescent rendition. The opening movement had intense, inexorable momentum. In the Adagio cantabile, Shaham brought silvery tone and emotional fervor to his numerous solos. The luxuriant string tone and relaxed tempo in the Allegro moderato third movement turned this Russian dance into an incandescent gem. The trio section was rendered with quicksilver lightness. In the concluding Allegro vivace, Tchaikovsky’s fugal writing had remarkable transparency and clarity. Shaham and the excellent players brought lush tonal hues and airy insouciance to Tchaikovsky’s razzle dazzle finale.

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