Tasmin Little clothed, with naked violin, in diverting recital

The Naked Violin

Playing and talking about the violin: Luslawice Variations by Paul Petterson; Bach: Solo Violin Sonata No 1, BWV 1001 and Partita No 3, BWV 1006; Eugène Isaÿe: Sonata in D minor, Op 27 No 3 ‘Ballade’

Tasmin Little (violin)

Ilott Theatre

Sunday 22 May, 3pm

Tasmin Little is in New Zealand as one of the adjudicators for the Michael Hill International Violin Competition, but she has also played the Sibelius Concerto with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and a solo concert in Christchurch in the place of a concert with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra since the earthquake damaged the Town Hall.

Her Naked Violin performances was arranged in Hamilton and Wellington through the chamber music societies in each city.

It is encouraging that eminent musicians such as Little are more often being invited to perform in contexts additional to the main purpose of their visit, in other places around the country. Too often in the past, players of international renown come to play a concerto with an orchestra, but no effort is made to set up solo recitals for them, even in the city in which they play.

Interviews on both National Radio and RNZ Concert during the past week revealed an engaging and sparkling personality and they may well have led to a full Ilott Theatre. Her routine involves no comedy one-liners or risqué gags – ‘Naked’ was clearly sufficient enticement.

After explaining what she aimed to do she took us step by step through the first piece, named for the place of a Polish chamber music festival, by English composer Paul Patterson. By the time the performance arrived the themes that she’d laid out sounded like old favourites (almost). It was no doubt chosen for the range of violinist playing devices that it demands, from left hand pizzicato to spiccato and false harmonics through the length of each string.

Parts of two Bach solo violin pieces followed. Two movements each from the Sonata No 1 in G minor and the Partita No 2 in E minor. Her playing is personally undemonstrative; rather, its impact on the audience came from its obvious and straightforward urge to make contact musically with the audience, just as she had through her open and self-effacing dialogue with them.

In the middle of the programme Tasmin invited questions from the floor about anything relating to the violin, the music or to her own experiences and intentions. That resulted in some interesting questions, and answers, about ‘historically-informed’ performance, how Bach would find performances of his music today, the way the performer might alter what the composer had in mind, how she managed to achieve success as a performer. Her reply to the small girl’s question, what was ‘her favourite song’ when she was young, might not have meant a lot to her (a piece by Delius).

Her last piece was the third solo violin sonata by Eugène Isaÿe; though I’ve heard it played several times and admire many aspects, it still sounds more like a very elaborate cadenza which I expect to end with the awaited ‘cadence’ that allows the orchestra to re-enter the fray. However, the performance was, like all her other playing, marked by an unostentatious mastery and a musicality that drew attention simply to the musical qualities of the piece.

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