‘Borok and Williams make merry’ (1981)


EMANUEL BOROK, violinist, with JOHN WILLIAMS, pianist – In a recital of music by Beethoven, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Brock in the Burden Auditorium at the Harvard Business School Sunday afternoon

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, December 22nd, 1981

John Williams didn’t look like a man with a secret Sunday afternoon when he came out to make his Boston debut as a pianist. What he knew and we didn’t was that he had just renewed his contract as conductor of the Boston Pops for another two years. He looked happy, but there were already reasons to account for that – he clearly enjoys making music with his Pops concertmaster Emanuel Borok and this is a time of good cheer. The red handkerchief that peeped out of Williams’ pocket looked at once sporty and seasonal.—-year and a sizeable crowd slid across the ice to the Burden Auditorium at the Harvard Business School to hear and cheer it.
The opening work, Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata, seemed a curious choice for this date and for these particular artists, and the performance was not really a successful one. Borok’s playing was both ardent and impeccable, as always, but the lusciousness of his sound, considerably deadened by the carpeted surroundings, and his characteristic intensity of approach were a little beside the point here, particularly when the conversational manner this sonata requires is not really Borok’s style. Williams made an interesting accompanist; he has ideas about the music, and there is lots of rhythmic life in his playing. But it was clear during most of the scale-and passage-work that he has not spent much of his time over the last 25 years in concentrated finger drill.
(Williams was sufficiently advanced 30 years ago to be a pupil of the celebrated pedagogue Rosina Lhevinne at Juilliard; he says that he gave up serious thought of a virtuoso career because of the sounds emanating from an adjacent practice room where John Browning was working. He made his name as a jazz pianist, and it was that skill that brought him entree into Hollywood.)
But the Debussy Sonata went considerably better; it was wonderful to hear this music played without inhibition, as Borok did, and Williams proved to know as much about color as he does about structure. In two Tchaikovsky bonbons Borok was in his element, and Williams demonstrated at the keyboard what he has already shown on the podium – he is a terrific accompanist.
The program ended with a bit from “Fiddler on the Roof” that Williams had arranged for violin and piano, and that Borok played to a fare-thee-well. And this performance closed a circle in a way – at his very first appearance with the Pops Williams conducted this work with Borok as soloist. And as Williams said with characteristic generosity at his press conference yesterday, “that sparked an instant love affair with the orchestra and Emanuel Borok, its fabulous concertmaster. Being so close to that beautiful sound on Sunday was really fun for me.”