This article originally appeared in the spring 2016 Harker Quarterly.
Violinist Jessica Lee and pianist Reiko Uchida teamed up for a crowd-pleasing night Feb: 19 at this season’s second Harker Concert Series performance, which featured the works of composers from a variety of eras.
As the first piece of the evening began, Lee stood still with her instrument at her side while Uchida marched through the solemn opening chords. A slow uplift gave way to a weepy melody, accentuated by Lee’s superb vibrato and interpretive clarity. Their interplay soon drifted into a jaunt of arpeggios, tempo changes and volume swells. Lee’s and Uchida’s mastery of tone and technique served them well through these challenging sections, maintaining astonishing accuracy without losing the emotional impact. This was most apparent just past the midway point of the piece, with Lee’s melodies sweeping across the tapestry created by Uchida’s colorful piano work.
Sergei Prokofiev’s “Five Melodies” – “beautiful little jewels,” as Lee called them – began with a plaintive melody and chords that were written in sunny California but sounded more akin to a rainy day. Lee’s animated, dramatic interpretation lent a kind of imagery to Prokofiev’s melodies. The busy second movement brought to mind a busy city street, perhaps the kind the composer encountered while in 1920s Los Angeles. Speaking of busy, the frantic and anguished third movement called back to a Prokofiev quote Lee cited just before the piece began: “I am as ecstatic about California as it is about me.”
Lee prefaced her performance of Leoš Janácek’s “Sonata for violin and Piano” with a personal anecdote about her visit to the composer’s home in the Czech countryside. The piece, she said, contained “explosive fragments,” a result of Janácek’s interest in speech patterns, the various in ections of which found their way into this particular piece. Certainly, the piece often played out like a heated conversation between various parties, shifting moods, coming in ts and starts. It was unconventional material, rhythmically challenging and thematically complex, but Lee and Uchida were up to the task. The transition from the anxiety-fraught first movement to the more organized, daydream-like Balada: con moto was no trouble at all.
The pleasant, strong melodies of Beethoven’s “Sonata for violin and Piano in Major” welcomed the audience back from the intermission, Lee and Uchida going back and forth with delightful flurries and strolling melodies before drifting into the thoughtful and reflective Adagio. Though Lee’s violin was center stage, Uchida shined in the space provided with her steady rhythms and playful interpretation.
Ever the entertainer, Lee elected to close the evening with Pablo de Sarasate’s “Introduction and Tarantella,” displaying not only the technical ability of both musicians, but also their air for theatrics, sending a very appreciative crowd smiling into the drizzly evening. But not before stopping in the atrium for an autographed CD.