Violinist Oscar Shumsky first performed at the National Gallery of Art in 1943, in the very first season of concerts at the gallery. Hailed then as a bright young talent, Shumsky is now among the old school of distinguished players and teachers. His concert last night in the museum's West Garden Court gave a fascinating chance to hear a vanishing musical tradition: an old-fashioned recital full of show pieces and fun, played with style and personality from the first note to the last.
Shumsky titled his program "In Appreciation of Fritz Kreisler," and like that memorable artist, Shumsky is first and foremost a musical storyteller. This comes out in his sandpapery tone, which lacks the ringing volume and sweet clarity of some players, but keeps you listening and sometimes even on the edge of your seat. This conversational style was particularly winning in works by Kreisler himself, which opened the concert and constituted the second half. They were all a delight, and the bright delicate sound of the "Allegretto in the Style of Boccherini" was particularly memorable.
The first half of the program, all of which Shumsky designed to be typical of Kreisler's own concerts in the '20s and '30s, included the Beethoven Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 30, No. 2, and Schubert's "Rondeau Brillant," Op. 70, works that are still often given. Though warmly played, these pieces were not without a few technical glitches on Shumsky's part: out-of-tune notes and a smudged entrance or two. The fine ensemble between Shumsky and piano William Wolfram more than compensated for these lost details, however.
Wolfram, the 1987 University of Maryland William Kapell competition winner, is an outstanding musician in his own right. His musical world is one of control and power, a little different than Shumsky's relaxed sense of drama, but the two fit together beautifully nonetheless. Both Wolfram's clear sense of mastery in the Beethoven and outstanding control and musicality in the technically challenging Schubert made his playing a pleasure to listen to.