Despite injury, violinist Oliveira delivers distinguished recital

By David Fleshler

Elmar Oliveira

There was an element of heroism in Elmar Oliveira’s recital Sunday at the University of Miami. The well-known violinist, one of the jewels of Lynn University’s music faculty, came on stage at Gusman Hall Sunday, and rather than lifting his violin to play, he turned to the audience and told them he had to begin with an apology.

“About six days ago I suffered a shoulder and neck manipulation injury,” he said. “And I have sometimes been getting cramps in my arm. I will try my best to continue the performance. If something happens that’s beyond my control, I will have to stop.”

Oliveira ditched plans to conclude the performance with fireworks by Sarasate and other virtuosos. But he proceeded with a substantial recital of Handel, Beethoven, Walton and Tchaikovsky with the pianist Robert Koenig for the Sunday Afternoons of Music series.

And he didn’t just make it through these works, but gave a distinguished performance, despite clear signs that it was physically difficult for him. Before beginning to play, he could be seen flexing his left hand and grimacing. Interviewed after the recital, he said he had been injured in a chiropractic session, leaving him with “tremendous pain” shooting down his arm and cramping his hand.

He opened with Handel’s Sonata No. 6 in E Major, and despite his statement to the audience, his playing gave no hint that he was performing injured. He brought a noble tone to the opening Adagio. The quick Allegro was cleanly played, and the final movement had a breadth and stately pace that brought immense dignity to the performance.

Beethoven, who had a reputation for breaking pianos in his enthusiasm during performances, might have appreciated Oliveira’s approach to his huge Kreutzer Sonata. After the grand chords for solo violin that open the first movement, he plunged into an aggressive, crackling performance, with a gritty tone in the rapid passages, sudden hushes into ominous rumbles and explosive bursts of sound. If it was not the cleanest performance, it had an elemental ferocity that seemed true to the spirit of the work.

Koenig’s piano playing was much smoother, without the touch of brutality Oliveira brought to the performance. In the second movement’s theme and variations, Koenig held back a bit too much, not bringing enough sweep and volume to his arpeggios.

A novelty on the program was William Walton’s rarely heard Sonata for Violin and Piano, composed for the American violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The turbulent, rhapsodic first movement was–like much of Walton’s work–accessible on first hearing, which is what it undoubtedly was for most people in the audience.

Oliveira made a good case for the work to appear more frequently on violin recitals, in a performance that showed he was clearly engaged with the work’s lyric heart. In the second and final movement, a theme and variations, Koenig’s piano playing came into its own, as he handled the complex part with its turn-on-a-dime mood swings.

In Tchaikovsky’s Meditation, which replaced the virtuoso works Oliveira had planned to play, Oliveira showed his tone could be as lush and romantic as in the Beethoven it was rough and gritty. In his hands, the work was a tone poem of suave sounds, ascending sequences of notes and gracefully phrased melody.

Posted in Performances

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Mon Dec 20, 2010
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