He's a violinist's violinist

Treat: An accomplished, versatile musician will participate Saturday in a concert at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

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Howard Live

April 19, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With the premium placed on glamour and glitz in our cultural life, you would think that the first and only American violinist to win the gold medal at Moscow's Tchaikovsky International Competition would have jumped right on the musical celebrity merry-go-round in pursuit of fame, fortune and crossover appeal.

But Elmar Oliveira, the winner of that prestigious prize in 1979, has spent the past two decades as a violinist's violinist, less a celebrity fiddler than a deeply serious musician who has worked assiduously to broaden the existing repertoire for his instrument while inspiring contemporary composers to explore anew the expressive gifts of the violin.

Oliveira's absorbing brand of musicianship will be on display Saturday when he will appear in recital at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre under the auspices of Candlelight Concerts of Columbia.

The program at 8 p.m. will begin with Mozart's E-flat sonata, K. 481, and continue with sonatas by Edward Elgar and Gabriel Faure. The "Tzigane" of Maurice Ravel, a work inspired by the impassioned fiddling of Eastern European gypsies, rounds out the program.

It is fitting indeed that Oliveira integrates the Mozart sonata and the dashing "Tzigane" with works by Elgar and Faure that pop up only infrequently as recital fare, for few front-line soloists are as at home in all phases of the repertoire.

This violinist can certainly deliver the war horses with style. His Brahms Concerto, coupled with a lovely, full-bodied account of the Saint-Saens 3rd with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony, is a delight on Artek, a recording label Oliveira serves as artistic director.

These days, excellent young fiddlers such as Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn and Robert McDuffie line up to play and record the sublimely lyrical (well, for two movements, anyway) concerto by Samuel Barber. Oliveira's account, which he and conductor Leonard Slatkin recorded for EMI when the piece was more on the periphery of the repertoire, is as good as any.

Oliveira has also championed seldom-heard concertos such as those by Argentina's Alberto Ginastera, the Finnish master, Einoujuhani Rautavaara, and Joseph Joachim, who is more famous as the extraordinary 19th-century violinist whose musical wisdom brought Beethoven's Violin Concerto to the core of the symphonic repertoire.

The artist's interest in the violin repertoire is matched by his fascination with the violin itself. Oliveira is working on a set of three compact discs that will have him performing on 30 of the world's finest violins: 15 Stradivaris and an equal number of Guarneri instruments.

He is also at work on a recording of shorter works to be played on the magnificent old violins housed in the rare-instruments collection of the Library of Congress. "In trying to categorize string players, it's vital to remember that they fall sharply into two kinds; leaders - and others," wrote the acerbic British clarinetist Jack Brymer in his memoir, "From Where I Sit."

His name may lack glitz, but, without question, Elmar Oliveira has established himself as one of classical music's true leaders as the art of violin playing enters a new century.

Candlelight Concerts will present violinist Elmar Oliveira and pianist Ronald Sat in recital at 8 p.m. Saturday at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia. The program will include works by Mozart, Edgar, Faure, and Ravel. Information or tickets: 410-715-0034 or 301-596-6203.

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