So much of classical technique is mitigating instruments’ rough edges — in the violin’s case, the friction necessary to its sound, the bow hair snagging the strings over and over again. But Josefowicz and pianist John Novacek offered a viscerally engaging program designed to put that resistance in the foreground.
The result amplified the violin’s physical essence: It was a concert in which one felt keenly the instrument’s wood and wire. In Igor Stravinsky’s “Duo Concertant,” Josefowicz’s incisive, athletic bow attacks and tangy, often vibrato-less tone sharpened the music’s deadpan Art Deco outlines to serrated blades.
In two works by Leos Janacek — his youthful “Dumka” and his mature Violin Sonata, both coursing with folk influence — the edges were more rustic than cosmopolitan, but the approach stayed the same, highlighting the music’s capacity for abruptness and disquiet.
The older pieces invited such unmediated sounds; newer works required them. The long rhapsodic build of Oliver Knussen’s “Reflection,” one of Knussen’s last works before his death in 2018, cast multiple violin personalities — fragile, pure, guttural — often jostling them together in a single phrase. Where Knussen piled on, György Kurtág’s “Tre pezzi,” from 1979, pared away: lean whispers in the outer pieces, hard, uncompromising thumps in the center. Even the comparatively crowd-pleasing finale, John Adams’s 1995 “Road Movies,” was powered by unabashedly bristly bowing that was far more fiddle than violin.
Novacek’s playing was like a more subtle translation of Josefowicz’s, leaning on the piano’s percussive core, using the sustain pedal for attention-calling washes of resonance and, in the Kurtág, landing some seriously concussive accents. In the pair’s encore, Claus Ogerman’s gray-skies arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” Novacek engineered a soft, jazzy haze, while Josefowicz alternated between delicate straight-tone and full, redolent vibrato. It neatly summed up the recital’s apparent aims: the rich but thin veneer of classical elegance giving way to other, unexpected possibilities.