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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 12:29 am | Fair 51º


Review: Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja Gets Up Close and Musical at Hahn Hall

Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko Click to view larger
Ukraine-born violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja makes her Santa Barbara debut with Russian pianist Polina Leschenko in a recital last week at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall. (David Bazemore photo)

Moldova-born violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, a Grammy winner and director of the 2018 Ojai Music Festival, made her Santa Barbara debut last week with Russian piano prodigy Polina Leschenko at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall.

UCSB Arts & Lectures’ Up Close & Musical series hosts lauded musicians for their first Santa Barbara appearances in intimate venues.

The pair opened with Bela Bartok’s Violin Sonata No. 2. Sz. 76, a work of unrelenting dissonance that featured sliding fingers making gradient sounds on the violin and tense plucking that evoked a suspenseful moment in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Eventually, the musicians’ fleet fingering on both instruments played out a muscular, frenetic race between the two.

From there, Kopatchinskaja quoted Bartok: “I am imprisoned in dissonances.” She shared that she understood. To provide respite for the audience, she “opened a window to take a breath,” playing an unscheduled Clara Schumann work that featured warm vibrato and a little romance.

In the first movement (Allegro) of Francis Poulenc’s Sonate Pour Violon Et Piano, FP 119, the piano’s melodious part came forward from behind barely audible plucking on the violin. (Later I learned this was more a function of Hahn Hall acoustics than the composition. If a voice or instrument were directed away from you, even by a small angle, it was very hard to hear.)

The Intermezzo’s breathy quality called to mind a mid-century film version of a passionate Brontë love story and ended, similarly, with a stark single pluck.

Yearning sounds in the Presto Tragico merged tinkling notes on the piano with ascending plucked note-pairs on the violin, leading to a momentary union between the two instruments and ending with intense extremes on the keys and banging sounds at the deep end.

Intermission conversations focused on the difference between enjoyment and appreciation.

Romanian composer Georges Enescu described his Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano, Op. 25 as a “fantasy on the life of a gypsy fiddler.”

The primary aesthetic was of an image chopped into pieces and rearranged on canvas; lushly prolonged notes were intercut with screechy, hollow tones and tapping of a single note on the piano. That said, undertones of a folksy fiddler surfaced repeatedly; the Allegro featured dancey allusions to how things used to be, strutty and upright.

Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane,” N. 76, the French composer’s look into gypsy music, provided stunning violin moments, with references to nature, a chirping bird from the violin and the piano sounding a cascade of water. Later, the passion and vigor in both parts included a distinctive Chuck Berry moment — fast and tinkly.

In her signature bare feet, Kopatchinskaja’s physicality includes both standing and seated playing, leaning in, “getting air,” bending sideways at the waist — at some moments just this side of contortion — and facial expressions.

At one point during the Ravel piece, she leaned into the audience, and while facing downward toward the instrument, her eyes looked up, nearly to rolling, as if to say to the audience, “Really, that was already enough of the chirping bird.”

Kopatchinskaja left the stage with her nose deep in a bouquet of red roses — entirely in the moment even in her stage exit — and returned with Leschenko for two encores.

A virtuosic fugue from Alfred Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style found the pianist’s hands moving so quickly that they appeared to be splashing off the keys. John Cage’s rapturous (in this context) Nocturne for Violin and Piano closed out the evening.

Kopatchinskaja’s moss matte satin gown, paired with a reflection of the red velvet bridges on the gleaming underside of the open cover, added a distinct if dissonant holiday visual.

Noozhawk contributor and local arts critic Judith Smith-Meyer is a round-the-clock appreciator of the creative act. She can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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