Kavafian impresses with subtlety, skill

Those attending Ani Kavafian’s violin recital in Chapin last Friday evening left with the sound of her 1736 Stradivarius firmly implanted in their ears after being treated to focused and arresting performances of a Mozart sonata, Brahms’ Regen Sonata and Beethoven’s notoriously demanding Kreutzer Sonata. Kavafian, a veteran of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center and past winner of the Avery Fisher prize known more for her work in the contemporary repertoire, linked even the most deeply contrasting passages with what seemed an effortless command of the direction of her musical gestures. Not only did the enthusiasm in her playing not let up, it even increased by the close of the Kruetzer where more than a few were compelled to gently bob back and forth in their red Chapin seats.

Kavafian opened the program with the Mozart sonata, retaining throughout even some of the most percussive arpeggiated bars of the allegro the same vocal quality of her sound she would display during the double-stopped and the smoothly melodic passages at the end of the second movement. The third movement finished with Mihae Lee matching precisely on the piano the soloist’s staccato articulations.

Lee’s playing took on a greater role during the first movement of Brahms’ Regen, both for her bold melodic statements and her delicate navigation through chains of sevenths. Kavafian of course soon reclaimed the assertive statements of the melody, which was a quality missing in the pleading melody of the second movement. Again, her gestures here showed great control as she milked each tendency tone for all it was worth over an increasingly urgent pedal appearing near the end of the piece in the left hand of the piano.

Then came the anticipated Kruetzer. Even the program betrayed a Beethoven bias, the night being billed as “Kreutzer and more!” The opening bars, though, first called to mind Bach partitas before the piano could throw down a fortissimo chord and announce that we were off to the races. Although Kavafian displayed an appropriate determination as she plowed through the most technically difficult passages, she never became bogged down in her execution – she again imbued even the thickest runs with carefully goal-directed gestures. After an eager trip down theme-and-variations lane in the second movement, she closed the concert with an infectiously enthusiastic treatment of the dotted rhythms of the Kreutzer’s presto.

Judging from the audience’s response to the Kreutzer, Kavafian had certainly convinced them that they were in the presence of a talented performer making musical hay out of a thorny piece. Then again, none of this could have been surprising after seeing the way she finished the second movement of the Mozart an hour earlier. Anyone who saw her finish that melody gracefully – her pianist having perfectly intuited her ritardando – and the smile appear on her face as she lifted her bow and turn the page could already tell that she would be in top form throughout the night.