It was a four-star night at Wolf Trap last night. Yehudi Menuhin, Joseph Silverstein, Elmar Oliveira and Ruggiero Ricci were the Violin Congress soloists in a quartet of concertos with the National Symphony Orchestra that gave one an opportunity to do some side-by-side comparisons of what makes each musician a distinctive talent.
Menuhin, certainly no stranger to the NSO, appeared somewhat ill at ease during the opening movement of Bach's E Major Violin Concerto, performed with a small string orchestra cued by Silverstein. Soloist and strings struggled before finally achieving the sound balance that had eluded them. Menuhin turned things around in the adagio. His eloquent play received sympathetic backing. In the finale, integration was complete as violin and orchestra crisply alternated lines.
Silverstein and Menuhin exchanged places for the Tchaikovsky D Major Violin Concerto, a collaboration that generated sparks from the first down-bow. Intense energy could be seen in Silverstein's left hand finger motion as he silently prepared for his first entry. When bow at last made contact, the sound could scarcely have been better. His tone was full, rich but not too sweet, and his patient phrasing avoided lingering over the more dramatic passages. The opening allegro cadenza even tamed nature: A chorus of twittering night birds quieted themselves just in the nick of time.
Elmar Oliveira's account of the Barber Violin Concerto showed a poetic musical mind at full tilt. He easily projected the greatest volume of all the violinists, and with this a volatility that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Paganini is a good way to wind up a program, and Ruggiero Ricci is as fine an artist as any to do the honors for the Concerto No. 4 in D Minor. Ricci drew out the relatively unadorned melody in the adagio movement with undue care yet was more than up to the ricocheting bow tactics and other high-wire feats of derring-do that Paganini planted as detours.