Review: Saxophonist Ashu Kejariwal at Dumbarton Oaks


Ashu Kejariwal. (Elizabeth Jocham)
February 11

Classical saxophone recitals are a little out of the ordinary around here, so it was a treat to hear Ashu Kejariwal — a young virtuoso who’s a little out of the ordinary himself — in a spirited and entertaining program Monday night at Dumbarton Oaks.

Ashu (he goes by that single name) has little use for the buttoned-down sobriety of the classical world, and in an evening that ranged from the urbane sophistication of Jacques Ibert to the sultry tangos of Astor Piazzolla, he turned on the showmanship, darting his body left and right to the music, beseeching the heavens with tear-bright eyes and emoting like a pro.

Ashu’s clear pleasure in performing was infectious. The theatrical approach worked better with some pieces than others; Ibert’s “Concertino da Camera” was a playful, light-filled joy to hear, and the soaring exuberance of Paul Creston’s Sonata, Op. 19 was so powerful it practically knocked you out of your chair. But in the quieter works (the gentle Andante from Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 19 and Debussy’s elegant “Rhapsodie”), it sometimes felt as if Ashu was milking every last drop of feeling out of the music — as if its subtleties needed to be spelled out in capital letters, for the benefit of the musically dense. (And one thing about Dumbarton audiences — dense, they are not.)

There was never any doubt, though, about Ashu’s remarkable virtuosity — he could get a little shrill in the upper register, but his fingering was near-flawless — or his easy, natural sense of phrasing, both displayed to perfection in three tangos by Piazzolla and in the lushly melodic “Fantaisie sur un Thème Original” by Jules Demersseman. The tangos (“Bordel 1900,” “Tanti Anni Prima” and “Nightclub 1960”) may have been the high point of the program, in fact: sensuous, uninhibited, a little wild — qualities well suited to Ashu’s unique approach.

And lest we forget: Kuang-Hao Huang provided crisp, solid accompaniment on the piano all evening.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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