There is nothing like the gloomy Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in Prokofiev's entire oeuvre. In this half-hour work, the playfulness so typical of Prokofiev's music has been distilled -- wisdom replaces witticisms. Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center, violinist Pavel Pekarsky and pianist Vera Danchenko played the sonata in a way that conveyed a thorough understanding of this dense material.
Pekarsky came closest to the music's tragic cynicism in the subtle sonic and impressionistic effects, such as the chilly runs in the solo part (Freddo), which Prokofiev likened to "wind in a graveyard." Danchenko, although hampered by an exaggeratedly theatrical approach, enjoyed many moments of glory, including the Andante's trembling pianissimo 16th-note triplets. Although the sonata goes out with a whimper, a fragmentary reminiscence of a first-movement theme, the effect of this performance remains.
Conventional fare filled out the evening. Brahms's Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108, was a golden opportunity for Pekarsky to prove his gift for warm, rich tone and lyrical expression. Technical problems, such as drastic shifting, have yet to be resolved. When shifting, Pekarsky's left hand sometimes slipped behind his right, particularly in the Adagio's registral leaps.
In Chausson's "Poeme," Op. 25, Pekarsky and Danchenko luxuriated in the piece's post-"Tristan" tonality. These outcries both melancholy and painful gave way in the end to glittering trifles by Wieniawski and Bazzini, a Paganini sound-alike. Wieniawksi's Variations on an Original Theme transformed that heretofore reticent Terrace Theater audience into 19th-century Parisian salon-goers gasping collectively at leaps, trills and double stops. Here, and in Pekarsky's encore, Bazzini's "Round of the Goblins," the left hand shatters its age-old silence and plucks the strings -- creating, not simply facilitating, sound.