Violinist Oliveira's performance of Saint-Saens concerto equally charms, dazzles

March 03, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Every time this listener hears Elmar Oliveira play the violin -- whether it is a concerto, a solo recital or chamber music -- he is elated by the magnificence of his playing and also a little saddened. The sadness derives from the circumstance that Oliveira, who performed Saint-Saens' Concerto No. 3 in B minor last night with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christopher Seaman in Meyerhoff Hall, has never received the recognition due a musician who may be the finest American-born violinist of his generation.

There is nothing flashy about Oliveira: He stands upright as he plays the instrument; ecstatic and soulful expressions that play on the faces of other virtuosos so that they may win audiences do not play on his; and he addresses music in a unaffected and honest manner. His manner, like that of the late Nathan Milstein, says do not listen to me, listen to the music.

In Saint-Saens' B minor concerto one listened to music-making that was lean and incisive, beautifully proportioned and sensitive. Oliveira boldly attacked the opening measures of the piece, immediately asserting his command, and he went on to give a performance that charmed and dazzled in equal measure.

The way the violinist ended the slow movement, with harmonics that ascended into the ether at ever softer dynamic levels, could not have been more haunting. And his fearless playing in the Gypsy-flavored finale drove the piece inexorably to its brilliant conclusion. The soloist's accompaniment from Seaman and the orchestra was strong and sympathetic.

The major work on the program's second half was Franck's Symphony in D minor.

Seaman's account of this famous work was not a particularly exciting one. But the British conductor's understanding of the work's relation to the organ -- Franck's favorite instrument and the one upon which he made his living -- was impressive. The textures in this performance were unusually clear, and the music unfolded with winning logic and warmth.

Seaman opened the concert with the first movement of William Grant Still's 1937 Symphony No. 2 in G minor ("Song of a New Race").

Still (1895-1978) was the first African-American composer to break into the symphonic repertory, and Seaman's sympathy for the composer's eloquent lyricism made one hope that this conductor will soon return and give us the whole work.

The program will be repeated tonight and Saturday evening at 8:15.

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