A recital played with aplomb

November 14, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Elmar Oliveira's recent recital was notable not just for the way he played - rich tone, impeccable intonation and articulation, deeply considered phrasing - but for what he played during the Shriver Hall Concert Series at the Johns Hopkins University.

Oliveira, stepping in for an indisposed Pamela Frank, demonstrated aristocratic violin playing Sunday in one of Mozart's less frequently encountered sonatas, and in Edward Elgar and Ernest Bloch sonatas from the corners of the repertoire. Very meaty stuff.

The fully raised piano lid during Mozart's A major Sonata, K. 305 - and the rest of the program - indicated Oliveira and pianist Robert Koenig weren't going for anything dainty. This was muscular Mozart, boldly outlined, yet full of charm.

With Elgar's E minor Sonata, the players tightened the tension and never let up. Composed in 1918 during World War I, the piece suggests a withdrawal from grim reality, and into a world where things at least appear hopeful.

There is an undercurrent of angst here, too, and that's what Oliveira and Koenig tapped into with particular power. Closing moments of the first and third movements had a tremendous, almost desperate urgency. This was, from both musicians, inspired music-making.

Bloch's Sonata No. 1 was composed only two years after the Elgar work, and it's all about reality. It's propelled by spiky rhythms and grating chords that speak of a post-war world feeling the effects of the carnage and trying to find new paths. Once again, the fire in the outer movements generated particularly compelling efforts; Oliveira's tone took on a darker, harder edge that drove the music home.

The concluding measures, which suddenly leave the anger and uncertainty behind, were given expressive depth by both men.

The violinist revealed his firm connection to the Old World style of fiddle-playing in a closing set of short gems: Kreisler's Liebesfreud and his arrangement of a theme from Gluck's Orfee (it could have been paced a little slower, but was exquisitely shaded); a transcription of the Hopak from Mussorgsky's Sorochintsy Fair that had Oliveira in bravura form; and, as an encore, a refined, understated account of the Meditation from Massenet's Thais.

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