Miriam Fried is certainly not the most polished violinist around, but she made an enormous impression at her Kennedy Center recital last night with pianist Garrick Ohlsson.
Let us dispense right away with the technical quibbles -- a shaky soft sound on the G string and an absence of radiance on the top notes -- and get to the main point. She is one of those devil-may-care interpreters who seem willing to take almost any chance with the bow to make an expression.
When it works, it is brilliant, as in the second movement of that virtuoso landmark of the fiddle, the Franck A-major sonata. Her eyes closed and her concentration intense, she was getting extraordinarily gutsy sounds in that work, which jumps from the top to the bottom range of the violin and back again with utter abandon.
This approach worked equally well in the concert's novelty, Jana'cek's 1922 Violin Sonata. This is another of those remarkable products of the composer's greening in his old age -- which is to say his sixties; had he not lived so long he would not have become the major figure that he is. It was to Fried's advantage that beauty of tone is not crucial to this music nearly as much as emotional intensity. It is full of those moments of terror, acerbic and even bitter, that make Jana'cek a musical equivalent of, say, Edvard Munch.
When elegance and grace were demanded, Fried was more lacking, as in the Beethoven G-major sonata and in the Schubert Sonatina No. 1.
To get this far into the review and not even mention Ohlsson, by far the more famous of the two players, may seem strange, but Fried was the dominant figure. It is impressive indeed that Ohlsson chooses to do this kind of concert instead of making a living just playing the virtuoso vehicles for which he is best known.