Josef Špaček – consummate violinist at Waikanae

Waikanae Music Society

Josef Špaček (violin)and Michael Houstoun (piano)

Bach: Chaconne from Partita no.2 in D minor / Mozart: Sonata no.22 in A K. 305

Gareth Farr: Wakatipu / Ysaÿe: Sonata no.3 in D minor Op.27 ‘Ballade’

Prokofiev: Sonata no.1 in F minor Op.80 / Smetana: From my Homeland

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A packed Memorial Hall greeted the winner of the Michael Hill violin competition 2009, Josef Špaček, for the first recital in his Winner’s Tour with Chamber Music New Zealand.  Though still a very young man and still studying (at Juilliard, with Itzhak Perlman), Josef Špaček already has a number of performance with leading orchestras and conductors in a dozen countries behind him, and appearances at music festivals.  He has won numbers of competitions – and no wonder!  He is a consummate violinist, with intelligence, imagination, and impeccable technique.

These features of his playing were particularly to the fore in the unaccompanied Bach, which he played from memory.  This was a very rhythmic, but not mechanical performance. Josef Špaček made great use of stresses and a range of dynamics.  This made for a more interesting performance than one sometimes hears.  The double-stopping and spread chords were played as if with ease, so secure is his skill.

Considered by some to be one of the most demanding works in the violin repertoire, it delighted the audience.  The programme notes were ample and absolutely excellent in giving the background to this and all the pieces played.

Mozart followed; not his most interesting sonata, but it was appealingly played here, with flair and beauty by both performers.  Despite, as the programme note explained, Mozart’s making a greater emphasis on a duo partnership for the instruments than had been the case previously, there were nevertheless extensive passages for violin alone, played unerringly and ravishingly by Josef Špaček.

Gareth Farr’s work was a test piece for all the competitors in the first phase of the Michael Hill Violin Competition, in Queenstown.  As in all the works, Josef Špaček played with a bright sound.  He is a confident and superb soloist.  It was hard to imagine that there could be a more skilled performance of Farr’s difficult unaccompanied piece – played here with a continuo background of the sound of pouring rain.

Ysaÿe’s sonata followed, also unaccompanied and played from memory.  A real virtuoso work this, with a variety of moods, all performed with expertise and evident talent.

Following the interval, Prokofiev’s sonata demonstrated what a demanding programme the performers tackled. Špaček’s intonation is flawless, and the range of emotions and temperaments in the work were conveyed well. The bombastic second movement was followed by very gentle, lovely pianissimo in the lyrical, dreamy third. Špaček’s playing in the last movement was masterful, and its very thoughtful ending capped off a brilliant interpretation and performance.

From My Homeland by Smetana was a good way to end the recital, since Špaček, like Smetana, is Czech (though Smetana’s homeland was called Bohemia in his day).  The gentle first movement gave another opportunity for Špaček to demonstrate his beautiful, controlled pianissimo.  But he has strong, even tone when required.  This was a much more mellow work than the Prokofiev, but demanding for both performers.

It was met with a rapturous reception from the audience.  Sensibly after such a demanding concert, Špaček did not provide an encore, and so one was left not with lollipops, but with an outstanding work played by a violinist with formidable talent, technique and memory.  He seems a natural with the violin, and should rise to the top.

Throughout the works with piano, Michael Houstoun was a true partner – supportive, eloquent, and thoroughly accomplished in interpretation.

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