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.