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By John Sidgwick

LONDON, 10 December 2006—The violinist Jennifer Pike, who celebrated her 17th birthday on November 9th, has long accustomed us to outstanding performances, from the day when she came to international public notice in 2002 as the youngest-ever winner at the age of 12 of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition. On the occasion of the above recital at the Purcell Room, she treated her audience to a splendid and varied programme.

A remarkable feature of her performance was the subtle manner in which her playing was perfectly adapted to the style, period and mood of each composer. But this was certainly not a studied intention. Miss Pike is a musician through and through and her instinct guides her faultlessly.

Her partner at the piano, the excellent Andrew West, demonstrated a similar sensitivity throughout. In Mozart's two-movement E minor Sonata, the pair treated us to a delicately-paced and finely-shaded interpretation of the work. The contrasting major and minor passages in the second movement were particularly moving. They followed this with a composition by the violinist's father, Jeremy Pike, a short piece originally commissioned for the BBC Young Musician string finals in 2002. Entitled Aphelion, its evocation of planetary movement describes both loneliness and passionate longing together with moments of deep serenity and repose. It was convincingly played and I, for one, look forward to hearing it again.

At all times in her career, Miss Pike has displayed a quite exceptional awareness of the special needs of French music. This was amply revealed in her playing of Debussy's atmospheric Sonata in G minor. At times, there was a whisper of gentle winds from across the Channel, at others, the joyous outpourings of the fairground. And all this conveyed with consummate ease. There are no technical demands that stand in the way of Miss Pike's expression.

The closing work was Beethoven's Sonata in A Major, the "Kreutzer", Op. 47. I am writing these words two days after the performance and I am still under its spell as I recall passage after passage which was executed with a sure sense of balance and rightness. Much has been written about this fiercesome work. In many ways, it is like one of Shakespeare's tragedies, unwieldy and unbalanced but imbued with the profoundest message. And indeed, Miss Pike's overall performance had a theatrical side to it. But don't get me wrong. She is not given to pointless gesturing as an instrumentalist. Nor does she exaggerate phrases to try to gain effect. Everything is expressed appropriately. Take the opening of the sonata, where the violin speaks for four bars on its own. Too many violinists look upon this opening as a forthright statement of the "Watch out, here I come" variety. Not Miss Pike. She made her statement in quietness, but with underlying strength.

There is not room here to go into the details of the many marvels of Miss Pike's interpretation. I shall mention only two. The slow movement, Theme and Variations, is a very long one, confronting the violinist with a number of difficulties, in particular, the taxing variation No. 2 which consists of long lines of demi-semi-quaver runs and figurations.. The delicacy of Miss Pike's playing here was a delight, along with her tasteful tiny alterations of the pace. It was, moreover, remarkable how she succeeded in maintaining interest right to the end of a movement which in lesser hands can only too easily pall. As for the last movement, I cannot recall hearing a more incisive and dramatic performance. Miss Pike's command of her bow arm enables her to articulate the somewhat awkward dotted dance-rhythm imposed by Beethoven with complete conviction.

Wonderful music-making, succeeded by two encores, Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid, touchingly performed, and a piece by Moritz Moszkowski, adapted for violin by Pablo de Sarasate and further arranged by Jascha Heifetz, an artist for whom Miss Pike has a particularly high regard. I think that the great man would have appreciated her treatment of his piece where impeccably accurate and dazzling virtuosity was allied to the purest of musical taste.

An evening to remember indeed!

John Sidgwick writes about classical music in Britain and France for Culturekiosque.com.  

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