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RECITAL REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, October 29, 2017
Alexi Kenney, violin; Renana Gutman, piano

Alexi Kenney and Renana Gutman Oct. 29

RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017

Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkis.

Alexi Kenney may change the all this, as he played a scintillating performance of the 1917 work in his Schroeder debut recital Oct. 29 with pianist Renana Gutman. Concluding the concert with a big Sonata that has had little popularity was perhaps chancy, but the performance the duo delivered had the requisite big sonorities and committed drive. Throughout the pianist needs a big left hand, and Ms. Gutman’s power was ample.

In three movements, the work opened with a plangent and dramatic moderato that had somber Romanticism and deft phrasing. Mr. Kenny’s formidable technique was never an issue, though several attacks weren’t precise. Ms. Gutman was an equal partner, never covering the violin line. The andante espressivo was played more aggressively than I have heard, but never lacked beauty and telling pedal point touches in the piano. The ascending phrase up to five big chords near the end was infatuating, and garnered the mystery of the simple theme that opens and closes the movement.

Things went well in the finale (passacaglia) with Ms. Gutman’s forceful playing nearly stealing the show from the violinist. As the pace increased piano scale playing became blurred, but the momentum easily carried through the quiet middle section (rose between thorns?) and a slight wavering of violin pitch.
Mr. Gutman’s accelerated octaves before the coda were thunderous, as was the final tremolo b natural chord. A monumental reading. Loud applause followed but no encore.

Mr. Kenney began the concert with a performance of Bach’s E Major Partita (BWV 1006), with small end-of-phrase retards in the preludio that I enjoyed, but surely bothering listeners craving Baroque authenticity. The tempo was brisk but suited the music, and his short trills and double stops were elegant. In the first menuet the artist intentionally blurred the sound for effect, and in the second he never dug deep into the strings, looking for a light sound with a light bow arm. In the concluding gigue he did dig deep, with more lower register sound, but the playing was not slow, though in places it sounded slow with every repeat taken.

Schubert’s wonderful and popular C Major Fantasy (D. 934) finished the first half. Here Ms. Gutman was unable to capture the “sound from no sound” beginning though she quickly found her footing and some of her best playing in the concert. However, Mr. Kenney perfectly gauged the long opening with zero volume moving to triple piano and upwards to the beginning of bits of dance (Hungarian? Czech?) and brooding drama. The opening theme in pizzicato was perfectly sculpted, as was the return of this now subtle march like theme that came following chaste rhythmic phrases and a histrionic climax.

A virtuosic surprise was Mr. Kenney’s traversal of the demanding solo of Esa-Pekka Solonen’s Lachen Verlernt. Much of the nine-minute score is in the high register, and here Mr. Kenney’s intonation was faultless and his slow descending dissonant phrases riveting. What could pass as a series of advanced violin studies was in his hands a tour de force of sonic glamour and where the brilliant effects were never tedious or unmusical. Especially convincing were the little growls and slides in the lower register. There are subtle references to the Paganini Caprices in this 2002 work, and the instrumental prowess demanded by the composer seeming no less than the Italian virtuoso of the 19th Century.

Ms. Gutman and Mr. Kenney also performed Crumb’s Four Nocturnes (Night Music II), written in the early 1960s, and requiring the pianist to strum, mute and delicately bang on the instrument’s strings. An audience member had the score in hand, a calligraphy marvel that could be of equal interest to the performed music.

Mr. Kenney played from score all through the concert, using an electronic tablet placed on the music stand, though he only sporadically looked at it.