Washington received a sublime musical offering Thursday night at the Renwick Gallery in the form of two Norwegian musicians -- violist Lars Anders Tomter and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. This concert, sponsored by the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program and the Norwegian Embassy, opened with a viola transcription of J.S. Bach's G Minor Sonata for Viola da Gamba, BMV 1029.
Tomter's playing is warm and persuasive, achieving a particular loftiness in the opening of the Adagio movement, and a good deal of tact and powerful vibrato in the final Allegro. Andsnes, who soloed in the following "Chaconne," Op. 32, by Carl Nielsen, plays not only flawlessly but with a full spectrum of expressiveness, from luminous grace to fiery passion. Expect fine things from this pianist.
The next two works on the program were an intriguing assemblage -- Elegy and Capriccio, Op. 47, by Johan Kvandal for solo viola, and "Lachrymae," Op. 48A, by Benjamin Britten for viola and keyboard. The Kvandal piece, especially written for Tomter's debut, is full of tension and drama, the elegy more a lament of desperate grief than a slow dirge. Tomter rendered this with an almost bitter percussiveness.
The "Lachrymae," based on an English Renaissance piece by John Dowland, was again incredibly tense but more moody, finishing in a melodic benediction beautifully delivered by both artists.
Following the intermission was Niccolo Paganini's showy and somewhat overblown "Gran Sonata" in C minor dispatched by Tomter with great elan and a touch of appropriate melodrama. The final, climactic work, Johannes Brahms's voluptuous Sonata in E-flat, Op. 120, No. 2, filled the Grand Salon in a grand manner indeed. This is a handsome, expansive work well-suited to Tomter's full-bodied style, and it gave him a chance for some free-spirited flourishes as well. Andsnes provided the robust piano underpinnings. As this sonata begins and ends with lyric passages, an Allegro amabile and an Andante con moto, there is a delightful symmetry to it.
The enthralled and enthusiastic audience was treated to one encore, the first movement of Robert Schumann's "Maerchenbilder." -- A.M. Beale