Thinking back to my music reviewing days, one of the concerts I most enjoyed was a National Gallery of Art Garden Court performance by the violinist Oscar Shumsky, not perhaps a household name like Perlman or Heifetz–to say nothing of the modern attention hogs. He was not after stardom and in fact for most of his adult career taught, played chamber music, led festivals and the like. But as he neared seventy, he returned to the concert stage, and gave solo recitals that were a model of musicianship and good humor.
For his NGA program, he played sonatas in the first half, and came out for the second half (having changed from bow tie to ascot) and presented bon-bons, explaining that unremitting seriousness of the “sonata abend” format—an evening composed exclusively of long masterworks, although all well and good, did not capture the full range of the violin’s personality or of what people might enjoy hearing. Fritz Kriesler, whom he idolized, had often followed this approach, filling the last half of concerts with lighter pieces–delightful, and often short, even tiny–hence the name bon bon, and delivering them with dazzling technique and panache.
Shumsky did the same in this NGA concert, transporting us all. That concert wasn’t recorded, but here’s his performance of one of Kriesler’s arrangements, Falla’s “Danse Espagnole “from La Vida Breve. A live recording–and you can tell–but such élan in the phrasing, and virtuosity with a twinkle in the eye–the man had style!