Oliveira’s intense style best in Brahms and Bloch

By Lawrence A. Johnson

We’re fortunate to have a variety of superb teaching musicians working in South Florida and Elmar Oliveira figures high on that list.

Artist-in-residence at Lynn University in Boca Raton, the American violinist has enjoyed a celebrated decades-long career with a string of inspired recordings. His disc of the Barber concerto with Leonard Slatkin was influential in restoring that work to the permanent repertory and a recent CD of concertos by Ernest Bloch and Benjamin Lees is a current Grammy nominee.

Oliveira’s recital with pianist Robert Koenig for Sunday Afternoons of Music, rescheduled from last September, offered a serious meat-and-potatoes program, which received, for the most part, serious, meat-and-potatoes performances.

 The violinist possesses an iron bow arm and a strong, firmly focused tone with a lot of sinew, a bold style best displayed Sunday at Gusman Concert Hall in music of Brahms and Bloch.

 Brahms composed a scherzo for the so-called “F.A.E. Sonata,” a collaborative gift for violinist Joseph Joachim along with Robert Schumann and Albert Dietrich, who also contributed individual movements. The entire work is rarely heard, but Brahms’ scherzo is worthy enough to stand on its own.  Oliveira’s big, ripely Romantic performance served this fragment well with Koenig contributing equally vital support.

 Oliveira is a dedicated advocate of Bloch, picking up the bow from the previous generation’s Aaron Rosand (a frequent Sunday Afternoons of Music guest).

 Written in 1920, Bloch’s Violin Sonata No. 1 is an uncompromising work, reflecting, said the composer “the way the world is,” and Oliveira and Koenig were completely in touch with the bristling drama and rhapsodic expression. The violinist fairly attacked the Agitato opening  with a driving, aggressive thrust, easing deftly into the broken, plaintive respite of the Herbraic second theme.

 The central movement  offers an unsettled calm, with Oliveira spinning a long reverie against piano arpeggios, as the music veers into increasingly bleak regions. Even with a Rondo-like melody, the finale offers little relief until a hard-won coda reaches a quiet, uneasy solace.

 Oliveira’s full-blooded style is tailor-made for this dramatic work and with equally committed support by Koenig, both men made an eloquent case for Bloch’s infrequently performed sonata.

The violinist’s technique and tone quality are unassailable, yet Oliviera’s bold approach can be rather fierce and unyielding at times, and the first half provided more mixed rewards.  While well played, Mozart’s Violin Sonata in A major, K.305, felt too tense and relentless and could have used more light and shade; Koenig’s lighter touch found more charm in the  final movement’s variations.

Schubert’s Violin Sonata in the same key, D.574, went better with an idiomatic Viennese lilt in the opening movement, and both men achieved that tricky Schubrtian balance between light cheer and melancholy in the Andantino, though here too one wanted more tonal variety and dynamics from Oliveira.

 The violinist showed he could let relax and his hair down, figuratively speaking, with three Heifetz encores. The inimitable transcriptions (Rachmaninoff’s Daisies, Prokofiev’s March from The Love for Three Oranges and Ponce’s Estrellita) delivered with the teasing tone, hairpin slides and stylish touches of the great master.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Oliveira’s intense style best in Brahms and Bloch”

  1. Posted Jan 14, 2009 at 2:42 pm by Sandra Robbins

    Wonderfully written and thought provoking review of a very special, communicative concert.

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Mon Jan 12, 2009
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