Jessica Lee’s debut violin recital is exquisitely performed and resplendently recorded.
“Colors” – VITALI: Chaconne in G minor; JANACEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano; PROKOFIEV: Five Melodies; BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 6; DEBUSSY: Beau Soir (arr. Heifetz)—Jessica Lee, violin/ Reiko Uchida, p.—Azica ACD-71305, 72:17 *****:
It’s rare that this reviewer encounters a classical disc that sounds as beautiful as violinist Jessica Lee’s debut solo disc, Colors. In this diverse recital (Vitelli, Janacek, Prokofiev, Beethoven and Debussy), Lee has chosen works that allow her to display her strengths: flawless intonation, a vibrato that is extraordinary sensitive to the emotional range of the music, and a sweet tone that is a pleasure to experience. The music ranges from Baroque to modern, but there’s nothing here that will upset the ears of classical music lovers. Add a veteran soloist and chamber musician, pianist Reiko Uchida and a lusciously detailed but reverberant soundstage, and you have a disc that would be the perfect antidote to a stressful day at the office.
Jessica Lee started playing the violin at age 3 and was featured in a Life magazine article. She entered Juilliard at age 14, studied with Robert Mann and Ida Kafavian, where she received a Bachelor and Master’s Degree. She won the Grand Prize at the 2005 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, was a member of the Johannes String Quartet and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two program. She has toured frequently with ‘Musicians from Marlboro.’
Although attributed to Tommaso Vitali, the Chaconne in G minor was recomposed by Ferdinand David in the mid-19th century and later by violinists Leopold Charlier and Leopold Auer. Lee infuses a sense of unrestrained fantasy and drama in this theme and variations that makes a compelling beginning to her recital. The Janacek Sonata is a result of the composer’s struggle with the form—attempting several versions prior to completing this final version in 1921. Lee, who speaks Czech, clearly articulates the irregular speech patterns that pervades Janacek’s music. The slow movement (Balada) is sheer poetry. There’s a sense of longing (Janacek’s music often expresses unrequited love) in the violinists performance that’s moving and sad—a highlight of this disc. The final movements alternate the lyrically rhapsodic with violent outbursts. Of this work, the composer commented, “I could just about hear sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head.” The slow tempo in the last movement accentuate the emotional contrasts.
In 1920 Prokofiev had composed Five Songs without Words for voice. When he toured California (Los Angeles and San Francisco) in December of 1920, he decided to transcribe these songs for violin and piano. These vivid and colorful tone poems are infused with lyricism, a prelude to his later ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Their mystery and shimmering passion emerge in Lee and Uchida’s performances.
Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 6, Op. 30, No. 1 is contemplative and beautiful—a sharp departure from much of his oeuvre. Written while in Heiligenstadt (outside of Vienna) in 1902, it was a period of calm inner reflection for Beethoven. It’s a perfect selection for Lee and Uchida, as the violin and piano are true partners, and the mood is one of serenity, gentility, tenderness and general good spirits. The rhythmic figure in the lower piano organizes the first movement, accompanied by the violin’s melody above it. Uchida’s clarity moves the music forward and Lee sings sweetly above it. The second movement rondo provides the structure for the integration of violin and piano, who repeat each other’s melody—and it’s one of relaxed tenderness, intimately performed here. The final movement alternates violin and piano theme and variations, ending with a rare burst of virtuosity.
Debussy’s Beau Soir (arr. Heifetz) is a delicious encore, a reflective and luscious conclusion to a recital that’s simply beautiful in its choice of repertoire, execution and recording. Don’t overlook this CD.