By Lynn Green
March 5, 2007
When Jennifer Koh sets her bow to her violin, the performer falls silent and the composer begins to speak.
Through that 1727 Stradivarius violin, four composers spoke again yesterday as the Jefferson Academy of Music presented a recital by Tchaikovsky Competition medalist Koh and pianist Reiko Uchida at the Columbus Museum of Art.
Koh's dual background in English literature and violin performance quickly becomes apparent when she plays. Unlike most instrumentalists, she imbues phrases with musical and seemingly literal meaning.
No matter how complex the phrase, her technique never overwhelms the composer's voice, and she never becomes self-conscious.
In Franz Schubert's Sonatina for Violin and Piano in D Major, written during the early Romantic period, Koh gracefully delineated the restrained Classical lines from the occasional passionate flourishes. Her timbre slipped occasionally in the lightest passages, but her technical precision quickly redirected attention to the melody.
Uchida and Koh excelled at Lou Harrison's colorful Grand Duo, with its striking exuberance, sparkling tone clusters and tender melodies. In their hands, Harrison's "interval control," a compositional device limiting melodic intervals, revealed itself as an organizational force, fostering passion without sloppiness or extravagance.
Charles Ruggles' Mood for Violin and Piano — an early 20th-century avant-garde work — was a brief but intense lesson in the emotive richness of atonality, with delicate gestures building into, and then escaping, rich and commanding lines.
But the strongest moment in the program was the final work, Robert Schumann's Sonata for Violin and Piano in D Minor, written during the composer's battle with mental illness. Koh's double-stop voicing, more duet than harmony, along with the duo's impeccable command of both technique and artistry made Schumann's real and imagined demons come to life.
Koh is skilled as an interpreter of the Romantic style, and, judging from the smiles after the concert, she enjoys having the composers live again through her work.
© 2007 Columbus Dispatch