The greater part of violinist Elmar Oliveira's concert at the Kennedy Center Saturday evening seemed more an act of will than a joyful communication. As a well-disciplined professional, Oliveira certainly made every effort to keep his mind on the business at hand but he conveyed little sense of a compelling involvement with the music. It was as if he had temporarily forgotten how the language of sound works.
Anyone can have an off-night, and this would appear to have been the case with Oliveira. On the surface everything was in order -- he is too strong a musician to allow real technical lapses. However, in contrast to his previous playing here, the first half of the program, devoted to Beethoven and Mozart, rolled past with more energy than meaning. There can be a special excitement that comes from control at high speed, such as Oliveira repeatedly demonstrated in the C-Minor Sonata, Op. 30, No. 2, of Beethoven, but even that ingredient was missing.
Richard Strauss' E-flat Major Sonata provoked the necessary flexibility and liquid tone -- and nothing more. Oliveira's heart was just not in the work. Only a brief piece by the Polish composer Szymanowski, with its freely unfolding lines, prompted Oliveira to give of himself.
Pianist Jonathan Feldman proved in every respect a superb partner, frequently offering -- in this recital, anyway -- more interpretive conviction than Oliveira. His style possesses an extraordinary lightness and agility no matter how demanding the passages. Even at the racing tempos often set by the violin he managed to find expressive space.