Leila Josefowicz Brings Signature Style to Toronto Recital

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By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

(photo: Deborah O’Grady)
Leila Josefowicz, the Mississauga-born violinist, and pianist John Novacek opened their Dec. 10 recital at Koerner Hall with Johannes Brahms’ popular Sonatensatz. Ms Josefowicz, her long blond ponytail and red and purple dress swaying to the rhythmic pulse of the C-minor scherzo, immediately drew in the audience with her commanding stage presence and obvious virtuosity. Unfortunately, the piece was largely spoiled by some technical troubles on her 1724 Guarnerius Del Gesu, which squeaked and grinded boisterously.
Thankfully, an audible tuning of the violin backstage after this first number took care of the problem and Josefowicz and Novacek returned to stage for a wonderful performance of Shostakovich’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134.
This is a piece well suited to Josefowicz’s signature interpretive style — fiery, radical and at times hostile. With a seasoned keyboard whiz like Novacek as a partner, Josefowicz confronted the pessimistic work with austere warmth that, without prettifying things, turned the bleakest moments into a prose that does away with unnecessary adjectives and punches one in the face with potent verbs and nouns.
After intermission, Josefowicz continued her stride in 20th-century and new music compositions in Igor Stravinsky’s Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano and Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tuur’s Conversio for Violin and Piano (1994). Tuur was a progressive rocker with Estonian-American conductor Paavo Jarvi, son of conductor Neeme Jarvi and brother of conductor Kristjan Jarvi, Josefowicz’s ex-husband.
The five-movement Duo Concertant is a sonata-like structure that allowed Josefowicz and Novacek to show off superb chamber musicianship by feeding off of each other’s parts like great actors do in live theatre. The pair’s dead-on co-ordination in Tuur’s Conversio, first championed by Gidon Kremer, sparked a variety of textures the composer was quoted as describing in the program note as “abstract dramas in sound” and “in the manner of a block of sculpture.” From the militaristic opening chords to bits and pieces of musical motifs that mimic a broken dialogue between a cat and a dog, Josefowicz and Novacek were at one in all dissonances and ended the piece with a sense of unusual suspense.
The final work on the program was Franz Schubert’s Rondeau Brilliant, D. 895, Op. 70, the composer’s only published work for the violin. The playing here from the duo was magnificent and high-voltage in style. There weren’t too many syrupy and sentimental moments one tends to associate with Schubert’s music, but a driven energy and clear sense of musical purpose from both players were the ingredients that made the steak juicy.
Josefowicz and Novacek offered a jazzy rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile for an encore — the only piece Josefowicz performed from memory in this recital.

> performance.rcmusic.ca

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