Jackiw and Polonsky deliver uncommonly compelling program at Rockport Chamber Music Festival

June 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

By Stefanie Lubkowski

Violinist Stefan Jackiw performed a recital with pianist Anna Polonsky Saturday night at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival.

For the second concert of its 2014 season, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival presented violinist Stefan Jackiw and pianist Anna Polonsky Saturday night at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport.  Their expertly constructed program bookended Mozart and Brahms with Witold Lutoslawski’s Partita and Kaija Saariaho’s Nocturne, a tribute to the Polish composer.

While placing Mozart first on a program is something of a tired tradition, Jackiw and Polonsky gave an atypically romantic flair to their interpretation of the Violin Sonata in B-flat, K. 378. Their intense dynamics and liberal application of vibrato and pedal may have been disconcerting for those expecting a more Classical approach applied to these works, yet the duo’s rendition brought a fresh nuance to the sonata, particularly in the melancholy sections of the Allegro moderato. Their interpretation also moved the Andante beyond pretty sentiment into a realm of emotional depth.

Lutoslawski’s Partita for violin and piano, written in 1984 for Anne-Sophie Mutter, exhibited the driving relentlessness of much Eastern European music written in the Soviet era, and Polonsky and Jackiw demonstrated an emotional commitment to the work that made it the clear highlight of the concert. Their frenetic launch into the flourishes of the Allegro giusto ignited a propulsive energy that set up thrilling contrasts of mood and amazing interplay between instruments that marked this and the final Presto. In the central three movements (marked Ad libitum, Largo, and Ad libitum), Jackiw brought to life the deep emotional outpouring in the music with a mournful, singing tone. In the ensuing culmination of the Largo, Jackiw and Polonsky imbued the widely spaced chords with a gorgeous, big sound.

Anna Polonsky

After intermission, Stefan Jackiw resumed the program with Saariaho’s Nocturne for solo violin, providing a fascinating contrast with the Lutoslawski. With its sustained, drawn-out melodic flow, this work is filled with a beautiful, fierce stillness that allowed the audience to hear every subtle timbral shift from delicate harmonics to robust double stops, all expertly executed by Jackiw.  To emphasize the piece’s stillness, Nocturne was played in near darkness, the only light coming from the violinist’s music stand.

From the solo’s sparseness, the duo segued directly into Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108. Just as they applied a fresh Romanticism to Mozart, Jackiw and Polonsky applied a noticeable amount of Classical restraint to this stormy work that brought out its lively contrasts and dramatic flow. Brahms’ long themes gave Polonsky ample opportunity to display her own singing tones and deft touch. The duo’s lack of interpretive excess was most successful in the nostalgic theme and grand rolled chords of the Adagio, where they allowed Brahms’ genius to speak for itself. Likewise, by holding back a little, Jackiw and Polonsky brought an engaging interplay between the initial playful theme and the churning second melody.

After a well-deserved standing ovation, Jackiw and Polonsky performed “Dithyrambe,” the final movement from Igor Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant. Their sweet rendition of this spare music benefited greatly from Polonsky’s sensitive touch and clear rendering of Stravinsky’s rich chords, while Jackiw adeptly applied his excellent musical instincts to the angular main theme.

The Rockport Chamber Music Festival continues through July 13. rockportmusic.org

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