Amere blizzard of historic proportions cannot keep Gil Shaham from an audience. The violinist was there, as scheduled, in Jordan Hall for his Celebrity Series recital. Shaham likes playing to a crowd, conveying a persona both earnest and impish, and the playing itself always has flair — qualities increasingly seasoned with curiosity and even daring. Sunday’s concert had a little of everything.
Shaham was joined by like-minded colleagues. Pianist Akira Eguchi was an excellent partner, with scrupulous touch, responsive phrasing, and a long, flexible line to match Shaham’s poised bowing. William Bolcom was also there, flying in for the East Coast premiere of his Suite No. 2 for Solo Violin: nine character pieces leveraging Shaham’s ability to create perfectly honed moments — offhand punctuations in “Morning Music,” slippery, jazzy harmonics in “Lenny in Spats” (a Bernstein-Astaire homage), a “Barcarolle” of shadowy double stops and jabbed pizzicato punctuation. Bolcom himself took to the piano, leading a “Happy Birthday” serenade to his wife, then returned for an encore, accompanying Shaham in his own “Graceful Ghost Rag.”
The Bolcom work was one of three programmed pieces written for Shaham; the others, both for violin and piano, replaced Bolcom’s playfulness with more orthodox seriousness. Julian Milone’s “In the Country of Lost Things . . .” was polished and effective, but its stylistic influences — rewinding through Shostakovich to Debussy — felt more like an impression than a characterization. The sources for Avner Dorman’s “Nigunim” were common denominators between various Jewish musical traditions. A Scherzo and a perpetual-motion finale were fast and exciting in a conventional way; but two interspersed Adagio movements had uncommonly intriguing sounds. One wistful, treacherous passage — Shaham sustaining spectral drones while Eguchi cast clustered embellishments — was especially lovely. (Dorman, too, was there to take a bow.)
GIL SHAHAM, AKIRA EGUCHI
On the first half, standard repertoire was a platform for theatrical skill. Franz Schubert's Sonatina in A minor (D. 385) was an exercise in stage whispers, Shaham and Eguchi framing and focusing phrases into a projected quiet. Shaham unleashed a full thespian arsenal on J.S. Bach's solo Partita in E major (BWV 1006): a swashbuckling Prelude; a Minuet delivered as a casual, conspiratorial aside; a magician's pause for effect after an ornamented flurry in the Gavotte. Shaham initially threw himself into the Prelude with such gusto that it resulted in a false start; the second take was, if anything, even more headlong. On with the show.