Violinist Erick Friedman and pianist Michel Block's recital at the Kennedy Center last night resembled a meeting between two well-informed people who have nothing to say to each other. Their program, an interesting mixture of sonatas by Faure', Poulenc and Beethoven, should have sparked a lively beginning to the Terrace Theater's new chamber series. It failed to do so, primarily because neither was able to light a fire under the other.
Certainly, the dry acoustics of the hall were not kind to the opening Poulenc Sonata and the following A-Major Sonata of Faure', both of which require a rich, vibrant sound to be fully effective. Beyond that problem, however, the two artists showed little affinity for the French style. Granted, the unevenness of the Poulenc work makes it difficult to bring off, but Friedman and Block did not come even close to shaping the transparent flow that would have pulled the simpler melodic writing into a relationship with the contrasting sections of nervous energy. The second movement fell particularly flat in this regard, never finding the elegiac quality Poulenc sought for this music, written in memory of the Spanish poet Lorca. These weaknesses became even more apparent in the Faure' Sonata, a finely crafted, superbly unified work that glows under sensitive treatment. Violinist Friedman showed more imagination than Block in inflecting lines and curving phrases expressively, though neither displayed much responsiveness to the delicately shifting harmonic structure. The third movement scherzo was done with admirable speed, which automatically enforced a lightness of touch that had been missing on the piano.
Since the approach to both of the French works had fallen more in the Germanic tradition of structural emphasis, it seemed logical to expect that all would come right with the second half, when Beethoven's powerful Sonata No. 7 in C Minor was featured. Clearly, both men felt much more at home on this territory, but their interpretation offered little beyond a highly skilled reading. The intense exchanges and shared insights that lie at the heart of chamber music never materialized, and whether the cause was artistic incompatibility or insufficient rehearsal together is impossible to say. The suspicion remains that both musicians have more to say than they demonstrated on this particular evening.