Enriching Mozart and `Porgy'

Review: Violinist Elmar Oliveira delivers a performance filled with ideas and conviction.

April 23, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Elmar Oliveira has been at the forefront of American violin talent since bringing home the gold from the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow more than two decades ago. His talents were on vivid display Saturday evening in a recital for the Candlelight Concerts series at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.

Dead-on intonation and clarity of articulation are among those talents. Oliveira adds to this a refined sense of style, one that allows a judicious amount of portamento - the sliding between certain notes that creates a violinist's musical signature. He's an emotionally open musician; there is no holding back, no retreating into careful anonymity.

This was apparent right at the start, with Mozart's E-flat major Sonata, K. 481. Oliveira took a 19th-, not 18th-, century approach, searching out the presentiments of romanticism in the score, especially the slow movement. It was a performance full of ideas and convictions, which could be said about the rest of the concert as well.

With Ronald Sat providing equally committed work at the piano, the violinist delved into the rich melodic and emotional ground of Elgar's E minor Sonata. The two men not only tapped the Brahmsian power of the outer movements, but also managed to avoid any trace of sentimentality in the gently Spanish-flavored "Romance." Oliveira's juicy tone likewise unleashed the lyricism of Faure's A major Sonata. The opening movement had terrific sweep and spontaneity, the scherzo an almost visible sparkle. Again, the tight meshing of violinist and pianist proved admirable, even if some of Sat's playing could have been a little more polished.

With these three weighty sonatas behind him, Oliveira turned to pure bravura. The brilliant "Porgy and Bess" transcriptions by Heifetz received snazzy treatment; Oliveira revealed particular panache in "It Ain't Necessarily So." Ravel's testament to the alluring power of gypsy music, "Tzigane," inspired white-hot fiddling. Oliveira carved the opening, unaccompanied rhapsody in bold strokes and infused the remainder with plenty of spice. For the most part, Sat played with complementary virtuosity.

The results all evening would have been even more compelling in a hall with better acoustics. Instead of living on a little after being sounded, notes are killed cold by the dryness of the sound there, the utter lack of reverberation. Another venue could serve the valuable work of Candlelight Concerts more fittingly.

That work will continue next season, the organization's 29th, with appearances by such notables as Anonymous 4, pianist Joseph Kalichstein, the Mendelssohn and Takacs quartets, the Aulos Ensemble, Musicians from Marlboro and American Chamber Players. For more information, call 410-715-0034.

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