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Concert Review: Geneva Lewis, violin

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Concert Review: Geneva Lewis, violin

Our local chamber music society is struggling back to offering a normal concert season in the face of considerable difficulties. Mexico is blessed with quite low levels of infection so it is possible to stage concerts indoors though we still have to observe "social distancing" which means that the revenues from ticket sales are half what they should be. Patrons are making up the difference. Yesterday I attended a very fine concert given by New Zealand-born violinist Geneva Lewis who is all of twenty-two years old. She was playing a three-hundred-year-old violin built by Stradivarius. In fact, the very same instrument owned by Joseph Joaquim, the great 19th century virtuoso for whom Brahms wrote his violin concerto--premiered on this very instrument! Lewis was accompanied by the very able Spanish/Dutch pianist Albert Cano Smit.

The whole program was designed as a homage to Joaquim with pieces written for him, by him or by his friends and included works by Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. The exception was the Ciaccona from the 2nd Violin Partita by J. S. Bach, included because it was a concert favorite of Joaquim's. After the concert I chatted with the artists and we talked about how hard it is to program that piece. It is certainly the greatest piece ever written for violin and indeed one of the greatest pieces of all time. It tends to overshadow everything else on the program. Lewis ended the first half with it, a good choice. I told her about a program I shared with a violinist many years ago in which, due to a shortage of material, we decided that we would each play a solo. When I asked my colleague what he was going to play he casually announced "the Chaconne." Agh! So what could I possibly play!!

The sound of the 1714 Stradivarius, nicknamed the "Joachim" Stradivarius in honor of its most famous player, is velvety, but capable of both haunting pianissimos and biting fortes. My colleague played a Guarnerius which has perhaps a bit warmer sound.

The program ended with the 3rd Sonata for violin and piano, op. 108 by Brahms, a very fine piece, but not quite on the same level as the Chaconne. Oh yes, both the French version and the Italian version of the name are used. The chaconne is a dance form based on a chord progression reportedly originating in Mexico and coming to light in Spain in the 16th century as a somewhat lascivious dance. By Bach's time it had become a slow and dignified form. Bach's "ciaccona" dwarfs the other movements in the partita and indeed is often claimed to be the longest (at around fifteen minutes) single movement written in the whole Baroque period. It consists of 354 measures varying an eight-measure harmonic progression. It uses a wide variety of violin techniques including extensive arpeggio passages. There is a sizable section in the middle in D major, but most of the piece is in D minor.

I haven't said much about the performance, have I? It was very fine, both technically and musically. For a young virtuoso Geneva Lewis shows a great deal of musical maturity. We can expect great things from her in the future.

Here is a clip of the 2nd Sonata for Violin and Piano by Brahms with Lewis and pianist Dina Vainshtein.

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