Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"He looks like a gangster, but plays like an angel," said violinist Leonid Kogan, one of the judges in the Tchaikovsky competition, when American violinist Elmar Oliveira played in Moscow two months ago.
Now honored with the gold medal from the competition, Oliveira at 28 is suddenly the hottest young musician in the Western Hemisphere - still looking like a gangster, perhaps, but playing like an archangel. Tuesday night, he played at the Organization of American States, with a tone as warm and richly sweet as butter-scotch filling the large, high-pillared hall on the building's second floor, even to the back rows where artists of slighter strength have faded into mere fragmentary wisps of sound.
"They had him here last January, before he won the competition in Moscow," said music entrepreneur Patrick Hayes with a shade of envy in his voice. "Now, that looks like real foresight, and it made it easy to get him back here."
Hayes noted appreciatively, that after a formal program of Vivaldi, Franck and Bartok, and an encore by Ernest Bloch, Oliveira had played a Gershwin prelude as his second encore. "Did you hear me whistle?" he asked. "I always whistle for Gershwin."
Music critic Richard Freed detected more musicianship in Oliveira's playing than in that of Eugene Fodor, the last American violinist to win honors at a Tchaikovsky competition (he tied for second), and record dealer Robert Bialek called him "a good fiddler" without venturing into comparisions with some of the great violinists of the past.
"It's a shame," he said, "that a good fiddler has to go to Moscow to get recognition."
"I loved his tone but hated his tailoring," said Washington attorney Sidney Zlotnick, recently returned from a trip to China.
"He is now forever enrolled among the greats." said Zlotnick. "Anyone who wins that competition - anyone who is not a Russian - has to be extra ordinary." His words echoed an idea that had been buzzing around the reception after Oliveira's recital: the idea that the Tchaikovsky competition has two standards - one for Russian performers and one for everybody else.
One man who might have shed some light on the question. Mstislav Rostropovich, was at the concert, beaming and shaking hands before it began, but like the soloist he was not to be found at the reception afterward.
On the basis of this recital, Oliveira seems to resemble previous winners of the Tchaikovsky competition. His tone is utterly delicious, his technique amazing, his musicianship uneven but more promising than what experience has shown in such cases as Eugene Fodor and Van Cliburn. His Vivaldi shows a touching innocence about 18th-century performance practices that is solidly in the virtuoso tradition.
His Franck Sonata in A is that of a young player, lovely in detail, rich and impetuous in style, but leaving depths in the music to be explored, perhaps as the performer matures. His Bartok Romanian Dances were a breath-taking display of pure technique, with jaunty melodies and bouncy dance rhythms that demanded nothing Oilveira could not supply.
Among those watching the winner was one Washingtonian who is still wondering whether he, too, may be a winner. Sterling Tucker, after the recital, said that he is still waiting patiently to find out what he will do next and is not making any plans until then. Oliveira seems to have his plans ready-made for the foreseeable future.