Most of the violinists in Washington seemed to be in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night--at least, most of those who were not busy playing in the National Symphony Orchestra's pops program downstairs. They came to hear Sergiu Luca, a fiddler's fiddler, and they contributed lustily to his well-earned applause.
Only a few months ago, Luca gave a great, illuminating series of Mozart sonatas at the Library of Congress with fortepianist Malcolm Bilson. Last night, with pianist Anne Epperson, he played a fascinating and musically superb program from the 19th and early 20th centuries. He avoided flashy, overworked compositions and focused on works that do not receive attention proportionate to their worth. In Clara Schumann's three slight but well-made Romances and Smetana's delightfully folksy "From My Homeland," Luca served the music as much by calling it to attention as by his excellent performance.
Two great works gave the program most of its substance: Leos Janacek's quirky, dramatic Sonata for Violin and Piano and Beethoven's great Sonata in C minor, a composition unjustly overshadowed by his "Kreutzer" Sonata, which has more virtuoso fireworks but less emotional communication. In both works, the violin often has to assume the qualities of a human voice--wistful and full of longing in Beethoven; sometimes gruff and choppy in Janacek, more like a conversational than a singing voice. Luca's adjustments of his tone to the music's dramatic requirements were superb, as was his technique--used always to enhance the music, never to call attention to itself. These works are full-scale dialogues, with as much work for the violin as for the piano, and Epperson contributed notably to the music's impact.
The program opened with the Brahms Sonata Movement (a scherzo) in C minor, whose contrasts of drama and lyricism gave a succinct preview of the whole evening.