By Lawrence Budmen

A decade ago Leila Josefowicz was a phenomenally gifted violin prodigy. In recent seasons she has given dynamic performances of concertos by Tchaikovsky and John Adams with the New World Symphony. On Friday night Josefowicz returned for an adventurous Festival Miami – Friends of Chamber Music recital at UM Gusman Hall. A musical force of nature, Josefowicz sailed through contemporary scores by Olivier Messiaen, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Mark Grey with white heated intensity. 

Messiaen’s Theme and Variations showcased Josefowicz’s shining tone and sterling musicianship. A haunting theme dominates Messiaen’s quasi mystical version of neo-classicism. Pianist John Novacek displayed a rich coloristic palette. 

Josefowicz and Novacek offered a post modern performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.10. Here was unsentimental, transparent Beethoven. Josefowicz’s singing line in the Adagio soared with rhapsodic beauty. She brought devilish energy to the Scherzo. The understated shaping of the finale’s principal theme was climaxed by Josefowicz’s volcanic eruption in a supercharged coda. 

While Esa-Pekka Salonen is best known as a conductor, he is also a gifted and innovative composer. His Lachen Verlernt (Laughing Unlearnt) is a dazzling solo violin showpiece. Cast as a chaconne, the piece is based on a spacious, lyrical melody which becomes increasingly dramatic and dissonant. Only violinists with extraordinary technique need apply to play Salonen’s work. Josefowicz ripped through the Paganini-like double and triple stops with abandon. 

Mark Grey’s San Andreas Suite combines Phillip Glass’s minimalist style with a pop music sensibility. Grey’s multicultural suite is well crated but lacks distinctive musical personality. Josefowicz reveled in the unaccompanied work’s unbridled virtuosity. 

Josefowicz and Novacek presented an unconventional approach to Ravel’s Violin Sonata. Instead of French musical perfume, the opening movement sounded almost neo-Baroque. Novacek brought jazzy syncopation to the Blues section. Josefowicz’s fierce speed in the Allegro finale had the crackle of musical lightning. As an encore she offered Smile from the film Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin. With ravishing high register harmonics, Josefowicz and Novacek distilled the bittersweet essence of the music’s creator.

Copyright Miami Herald

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