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Music Review

Conjuring the spirit of Paris in the 1920s

Maria Bachmann drew on Copland and Gershwin. Maria Bachmann drew on Copland and Gershwin. (Robin Holland)

On Friday, violinist Maria Bachmann and pianist Jon Klibonoff framed their Jordan Hall recital with souvenirs from one of art's most famous lost utopias, 1920s Paris. But it was through a run of contemporary throwbacks that they finally engaged the proper spirit of the time and place.

Maurice Ravel's 1927 Sonata for Violin and Piano is an elegant balance of impressionistic haze, sardonic wit, and transfigured vernacular influences; its masterpiece status seemed to stifle the duo, resulting in a precise but kid-gloved performance. With Klibonoff playing on the keys rather than into them - a diffuse mist - and Bachmann refining her silvery tone down to fragile lacework, the music was rendered distant and frangible; only in the perpetual-motion finale did Bachmann's dug-in bow give a glimpse of the work's grittier side.

Equally restrained was a "Nocturne," the first of two 1926 rarities from Aaron Copland's own Parisian student days, a pensive violin cantilena spun out over bluesy, gently dissonant harmonies. Its companion, the virtuoso "Ukelele Serenade," was more hale, driven by Bachmann's exuberant navigation of Copland's quirky, jazz-inflected country fiddling.

John Corigliano's recent "The Red Violin: Chaconne" (the centerpiece of Bachmann's new CD, the source of most of the program), based on his Oscar-winning film score, is idiomatic, thoroughly Romantic music that doesn't quite transcend the episodic nature of its source. But both players brought a welcome interpretive and sonic abandon, which spilled over into three short numbers by Paul Moravec, a composer Bachmann has long championed. The 2001 "Ariel Fantasy" is about as user-friendly as new music gets - Ravel in running shoes. Here the duo was finally in the groove. The short, polished Brahmsian "Evermore" was followed by the best of the bunch, the funky, erratically driven polytonal "Double Action."

It left them in fine fettle for a real find, the Romanian composer George Enescu's Sonata No. 3. Enescu, a composer-violinist who premiered the Ravel Sonata, wrote his own piece around the same time, and you can hear the fertile, unexpected interchange of ideas between the two pieces.

The rhapsodic nature - gypsy-like violin cadenzas over static harmonies in the piano -recalled Corigliano's similar rhetoric, but unlike that orchestral reduction, Enescu's constant textural variety keeps the background pulsing with life. It's subtitled "in the popular Romanian character," but it's really in the spirit of everything Enescu could get his hands on in ultra-cosmopolitan Paris.

An encore, Bachmann's own arrangement of Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So," was a Heifetz-worthy romp, loose, clever, and filled with élan. Maybe next time they should just reverse the program.

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Maria Bachmann, violin; Jon Klibonoff, piano

Presented by Pro Musicis

At: Jordan Hall, Friday