The astonishing artistry of violinist Aiman Musakhodzhayeva came to my attention when I reviewed her brilliant performance of the full five-movement version of Lalo's Symphonie espagnole in February 2004, when conductor Robert Gutter secured her on short notice to replace a soloist scheduled to appear with the Philharmonia of Greensboro. Her fiery performance and generous series of encores at that time "blew us away." Her April 4 recital program, with pianist Sara Asabayeva, given in the UNCG School of Music's intimate Organ Room, was an irresistible siren-call to this critic. Among the many prestigious contests at which she has won prizes were the 1976 Belgrade International Competition, the Paganini International Competition, the 1985 Sibelius International Competition in Helsinki, and the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Competition. In 1998, she realized her dream of opening the Kazakh National Academy of Music in Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan.
Musakhodzhayeva's program was an eclectic mix of showpieces and works requiring deeper musicianship. She played a Stradivarius violin with a French bow. Her bow arm is extraordinary: she can apply great strength to create a huge tone without any distortion of pitch and then instantly switch to switch to the most delicate possible sound. Her ability cleanly to articulate extreme high notes at remarkably fast tempos is breathtaking. These were just a few of the virtues of her readings of Ravel's "Tzigane" and Paganini's "La Campanella." Both artists' efforts made for a Gypsy-sounding reading of the Ravel, graced by special attention to phrasing and use of rubato. The precision of the high harmonics was astounding. More than once, the piano suggested a cimbalom. The Paganini was given a bold performance in which intonation was never sacrificed as Musakhodzhayeva raced on in seeming abandonment.
The violinist's expressive and quiet playing were on display in the varied moods of Ernest Chausson's "Poème," in E-flat, and the tonal and song-like "Romance," by Nagim Mendïgaliyev. A Google-search failed to turn up anything about this composer but in an overview of opera, orchestral, and chamber music in the New Grove II article on Kazakhstan, Saida Elemanova cites the composer's piano concerto as representative of the form. The "Romance" is very much in the Romantic style of Rachmaninov and, like Vaughan Williams, gentle and folk-like. Perhaps in a future recital more elegance and refinement of style could be displayed through the programming of a late Mozart sonata or sonatas by Debussy, Ravel or Fauré.
Musakhodzhayeva's ability to sustain a musical line while delineating structure was clear in her performance of the Ciacona, long attributed to Tomaso Antonio Vitali. This involves multiple lines for the violin above a dark, low keyboard part that seems to suggest that it might originally have been for organ.
Despite being a late work, the fiery embers of Brahms' passionate youth flair up in his Sonata No. 3 in D, Op. 108, and this was emphasized throughout Musakhodzhayeva's interpretation. Her assertive and heavy bowing wove a plush, almost orchestral texture, perhaps to offset the piano-concerto quality of the keyboard part as realized. After a simple and eloquent reading of the slow movement, the playful give-and-take of the third movement served as a warm-up for the searing intensity both players brought to the finale. The concluding "Presto agitato" was nearly as hair-raising as the Paganini.