One of the most sought-after figures in classical music was heard in a concert at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on Wednesday night. The 1741 Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu, a fabled violin valued at $18 million when it was up for sale in 2010, has staged a comeback, offering a demure program of mostly light music that showed off its mellifluous tone. After changing hands this year for an undisclosed sum paid by an anonymous benefactor, the instrument brought along its current player, American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers — who owns two other expensive Stradivarius violins — for the ride.
The Vieuxtemps has a striking sweetness of sound, capable of subtle beginnings and endings, heard in the simple and repetitive “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Part. Meyers drew out the instrument’s vocal side in Mozart’s K. 377 Violin Sonata, especially the winsome theme and variations, even while leaving out the repeats.
Two slick, sultry arrangements of Piazzolla pieces and of some Manuel de Falla songs showed off a younger, hipper side to the 272-year-old violin, with accompanist Wendy Chen working miracles in getting flattering, even contained sounds in all of it from the museum’s somewhat clunky piano.
Only in Ravel’s Violin Sonata in G did the instrument break a sweat, putting Meyers through her paces in the concluding perpetual motion movement, with Chen’s honky-tonk licks at the keyboard in the middle-movement blues. In the first movement, there were a few near-squeaks in the faster passages and some extended high notes on the E string. And the impromptu performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that opened the concert had some chalky undertones. But this is a superb violin.
One hoped to hear this violin pushed a little harder, by an unaccompanied Bach fugue or a Paganini caprice, a desire that a simple encore left unfulfilled.
Downey is a freelance writer.