Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg has been so indelibly marked as a firebrand, as a violinist at the mercy of titanic emotions, that her quieter, more musicianly qualities get short shrift.
That's not to say that her Washington Performing Arts Society recital at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Friday lacked moments of pyrotechnic grandeur. She practically bowed her fiddle into kindling in Poulenc's Sonata for Violin and Piano, making something thrilling of this angular, restless work. Likewise, she threw herself heart and soul into a set of lush Gershwin arrangements by Jascha Heifetz and Russell Warner. In these pieces, and in encores by Kreisler and Prokofiev, she worked mightily to pull every last ounce of volume and muscle from her instrument.
But she also found the vein of gentle lyricism rippling through the Poulenc and the kittenish sensuality in the Gershwin. More strikingly, she proved a model of emotional and stylistic restraint in violin sonatas by Beethoven (Op. 12, No. 1) and Brahms (Op. 78). The theme and variations in Beethoven's slow movement was engaged with a mix of playfulness and hushed wonder, and throughout the Brahms the composer's songfulness was deeply felt but never overwrought.
Anne-Marie McDermott--a fine pianist who deserves a starrier solo career herself--matched her partner phrase for phrase in passion, inventiveness and sheer personality.
CAPTION: Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.