Violinist Jill Levy, the artistic director of the Saratoga Chamber Players and the concertmistress of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, gave a recital Sunday afternoon at the United Methodist Church as part of the 26th season of the SCP’s series.
Levy played a varied and interesting program with enthusiasm, rich tones and strong preparation. Her excellent accompanist on piano was the redoubtable Margaret Kampmeier, a frequent partner, whose acute sense of balance could never be faulted. She knew just when to use the pedal, when to back off and when to stride forward.
They began with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 4 in A minor (1801). This light-hearted work featured the piano, with the violin more in a commentary position. Yet the lyricism, lively tempos and transparent parts had charm and even a bit of laughter. Levy was unforced throughout and Kampmeier was forthright. Only in the final of the three movements was there some drama and increased volume.
Schumann’s marvelous Sonata No. 1 in A minor (1851) was in total contrast. Lush, romantic melodies in surging, forward momentum pulsed with dark harmonies. The piano part swirled, the violin sang with dark tones. Both women played with much feeling and intensity. Techniques were solid and balances were excellent. The sunny, sprightly, sweet second movement sparkled and the finale moved from running figures to declamatory statements. The large crowd gave the duo strong applause.
But things did not fare as well in the second half of the program, which was devoted to music of the 20th century. Arvo Pärt’s work is most often mesmerizing, haunting music based on motifs and harmonies as simple as the triad. Although there are several versions of his “Fratres,” the one performed here was more about disturbance and angst. Levy played the violin part, which can be difficult because it must be so exact, with a strident bowing across the strings. Pitch was not her friend here.
Her part varied with a few pluckings, harmonics, and some repeated motifs against open and softer chords on the piano. There was little continuity.
In Stravinsky’s “Divertimento,” the duo did better. The violin part is very virtuosic in sections and because of its unpredictability and wonderful changeability in styles requires the player to be completely focused. Levy did well generally, but more performances will allow her to become more comfortable with Stravinsky’s language.
The piece is wonderful for its lyricism, puckishness, insinuating gestures and sheer inventiveness. The players must project effortlessness to pull the piece off. Many of the sections were familiar to ballet enthusiasts, who have seen them danced to at SPAC.
The crowd loved it and gave the two women a standing ovation.
The next concert on the series is March 31 with Haydn, Chopin, Schoenberg and Brahms.