The gifted Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman has performed chamber music in the Washington area several times under the auspices of the Marlboro Festival, but on Friday at the Barns at Wolf Trap he was center stage in recital with pianist Kwan Yi.
Zorman, 31 but looking a decade younger, is sensitive to a fault. He communes with the instrument, leaning lovingly into it, sometimes looking upward with an angelic expression. And the sounds he makes are angelic indeed; clean, perfectly in-tune, fluent and small-scaled. He is at home in the very top register, and the vibrato spins out in a tapestry of gold. But as my teacher, Bernard Greenhouse, once exhorted me in a master class, “For God’s sake, play loud!”
In sonatas of Brahms (No. 2) and particularly Bartok (No. 1), Zorman was often covered by Yi, who himself played quite sensitively. Perhaps he has spent too much time playing chamber music, but Zorman does not yet have the killer instinct of a big-time soloist who knows that the concert platform is a minatory place where one must fight for every note.
He keeps his bow loosely tightened, which means he can never truly dig into the strings. The expressive arsenal (as far as different types of slides) is limited; he moves between notes with polished efficiency rather than the vocal inflection of a Heifetz or Szeryng.
These qualities fitted the opening Mozart sonata (K. 378) best, but the second-movement variations did not flow organically from one to the next. George Crumb’s “Four Nocturnes” — mostly a study in bizarre sounds — was certainly an offbeat choice, even though the effect was that of watching two men repair a TV set together. In the two big sonatas, Yi came into his own, with colorful, rustic playing.
Zorman is a fine, thoughtful artist whose playing is beautiful as far as it goes. Perhaps with more solo experience it will go further.