Violinist lives up to bizzare reputation

Ashley Hassebroek

On the surface, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg seemed brisk, to-the-point and businesslike.

Sunday afternoon when the Italian-born show serenader and her accompianist, Anne-Marie McDermott, briskly strode across the Stephens Auditorium stage to begin the two-hour concert, it appeared that the audience was going to get a mere run-of-the-mill show.

As soon as the duo started playing, it was apparent that there is nothing run-of-the-mill about the legendary violinist’s performances or her playing style.

Throughout Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 1 in D,” Nadja slithered in and out of lightning-speed arpeggios and high register phrases, while McDermott carefully seasoned sprinkles of flavor on the fine feast.

Though the sonata’s running time was only about 27 minutes, the impeccable artist managed to capture the intensity and madness of Beethoven, interrupted by sparks of his sensitivity.

The favorite of the classical selections was Brahms’ seemingly simple, yet expressively complex Sonata No. 1 in G for Violin & Piano. During the first movement, Salerno-Sonnenberg exploited everything passionate about the composer, using enough drippy vibrato to stir the audience to tears.

Adding syrupy grace notes here and there, Salerno-Sonnenberg kept her theme of passion during the second movement, squeezing every ounce of juice out of the the tender theme. Even when Salerno-Sonnenberg whispered seemingly unimportant parts, everyone in the room easily complied, holding their breath for the next experiment.

Toward the end of the classical set, the violinist put on her jazz violin hat and relaxed with a few Gershwin favorites, including “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” and “Embraceable You.” As she slid into “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” she started tapping her foot and moving her hips, demonstrating the kind of bizzare, on-stage antics for which she is famed.

The last note of her final jazz-spiked run was met with a chuckle from the audience and a wild applause, to which she simply shrugged her shoulders.

And then she walked briskly off the stage with McDermott by her side.