It’s easy to forget that Jennifer Pike has been performing for some 20 years. This was the first recital for the 30-year old British-Polish violinist since March, and the first since she was awarded the MBE earlier this month for services to classical music. She has tirelessly championed the industry in its darkest hours. A couple of days before the announcement, she was performing on the steps of Manchester Central Library with Vanessa Redgrave to highlight the peril the arts sector faces as a result of the pandemic.

Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe © Wigmore Hall
Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe
© Wigmore Hall

Quite often, concert programmes replicate the artist’s latest disc, no doubt driving CD sales in the process. But ironically, Pike’s Wigmore Hall recital with Martin Roscoe contained neither Elgar nor Vaughan Williams (composers on their recent release) but instead offered repertoire picked’n’mixed across the centuries and a wide range of styles, a brilliant showcase for her artistry. 

Pike opened the evening celebrating her Polish heritage in Krzysztof Penderecki’s Capriccio for solo violin (she gave the UK premiere in this very hall in 2017). Like a cadenza in search of a concerto, it teases and taunts the listener, full of bravura effects that were hurdled with ease. The Mozart Violin Sonata in G major, K301 brought a complete change in focus. Pike’s sound was clean and unforced, her playing totally in step with Roscoe’s singing tone at the piano. This is a long-established partnership, evident through the violinist barely needing to throw a glance over her shoulder, seeming to think as one.

Martin Roscoe and Jennifer Pike © Wigmore Hall
Martin Roscoe and Jennifer Pike
© Wigmore Hall

Emphatic bow sweeps marked the opening of Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro. The work was something of a hoax, originally presented by Kreisler as a long-lost work by Gaetano Pugnani. He only came clean decades later that it was all his own work. It served as a wonderful vehicle for Pike’s flamboyant side, particularly the Allegro section, although most of that flamboyance stems from her bowing arm; apart from the occasional backbend, she maintains remarkable stillness in her posture. Roscoe then claimed the spotlight for Chopin’s Barcarolle in F sharp major, which set a steady course with nice dynamic variation, building to a convincing climax.

Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe © Wigmore Hall
Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe
© Wigmore Hall

Two early 20th-century works rounded off the programme, although they could hardly have been more contrasting. Debussy’s sole Violin Sonata was a model of poise and refinement, Pike’s wide palette of colours on display in a work that can sometimes be treated anaemically. Baroque ghosts seemed to haunt the middle movement and the finale packed plenty of tonal heft. Miklós Rózsa is best known for his film scores such as The Thief of Baghdad, Ben-Hur and El Cid, but was also a considerable composer of concert works. His Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song was an early work (1929) and Pike’s performance really dug into the earthy folk style of Rózsa’s homeland, including a lovely variation where the violin is strummed like a guitar. With a touch of schmaltz courtesy of Gershwin as transcribed by Jascha Heifetz as their encore, this was a most rewarding evening.


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