In 1978 Elmar Oliveira became the first American to win the Tchaikovsky violin competition in Moscow. Listening to him last night at the Kennedy Center in a recital with pianist Jonathan Feldman one could easily understand how he conquered Russian hearts.
There is a certain sense of recklessness in his playing which is tremendously exciting. He is willing to take chances, keeping himself open to the music, leaving room for his emotions to rush in. As a result, his interpretations possess an exceptional freshness and immediacy.
Of course, the illusion that Oliveira generates of abandoning himself to the moment is just that -- illusion. His art rests upon a brilliant technique and sure control. If he allows himself an unmanicured sound, he does so because its effect is powerful. In this respect his performance of Beethoven's stormy "Kreutzer" conata was particularly telling. Sometimes his tone was raw and rasping, at other times it dwindled to the merest whisper to reemerge in pure song.
In the Beethoven and throughout the evening, pianist Feldman proved a superb partner, matching Oliveira's shifts with equally varied and subtle responses. One exceptionally choice passage in the "Kreutzer" second movement variations will linger long in the memory. While Oliveira spun out the theme in lines of liquid gold, Feldman traced a filigreed accompaniment of shimmering lightness.
The program, which included a Vivaldi and Saint-Saens sonata, ended with an encore of Debussy's "Beau Soit" in Heifetz arrangement.