The Times Union
By Joseph Dalton
February 7, 2011
TROY -- Most of the titles down the list of works read "Sonata." But that hardly indicated the broad range of styles, colors and flavors that came from the fine violinist Jennifer Koh on Saturday night. Her recital with pianist Shai Wosner was presented by the Friends of Chamber Music at Emma Willard School.
The radical, ethnic-infused side of Debussy showed up early in his Sonata, the program opener. It wasn't exactly primitive because there was still a refined elegance. But with Koh's attention to minutia of touch and effect, it was as if she'd just returned from her own world travels. Only in the final movement did the more lush and familiar Debussy of "La Mer" appear in huge cascading lines in both piano and violin.
With Schumann's Sonata No. 2 in D Minor Op. 121, it was back to old Europe. Koh's intimate fondness for Schumann stands in sharp contrast to her taste for some of today's most quirky composers, from Carter to Zorn. Likewise, her deep immersion in the long and heavy textures of the Sonata speaks to her diversity. Koh and Shai kept it pretty lively. Toward the end of each movement, when enough was almost enough, either the violin or piano would spring out with some unexpected flourish of fresh material.
The token new work on the program was "Tocar," written just last year by Finish composer Kaija Saariaho. At only about six minutes long, it felt a bit like an interlude or prelude to something still to come. To hear the lifeblood of the work, one had to listen past the rather repetitious surface contours, and instead attend to details of certain notes, such as tiny sags of pitch or scratching textures. This kind of focus was probably a result of Saariaho's background in electronic music.
More Schumann followed, with the Three Romances, Op. 94, which had a more airy, folk song character than the Sonata. Koh's smooth long lines brought to mind a drawing class and that exercise of completing one image without ever lifting the pen from paper.
After all this, the Ravel Sonata felt kind of cheap. That's not saying Koh cheated in delivering it as best she could but Ravel's middling take on blues is almost humorous. The final movement, though, became an intense and beautiful race.
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