Violinist Bella Hristova has been making the rounds of Washington’s concert series scene in the past few years. Her latest appearance came Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection, where she made a debut noteworthy for its fortitude and technique. Strangely, for a musician with such immaculate tone quality, the results were not always musically memorable.
In the final work on the program, Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata, Hristova was forceful and commanding in the big-boned first theme. Pianist Gloria Chien was equally thrilling in those loud sections, willing to go along for the fast ride required by Hristova’s tempo choice in the closing Presto movement. Shortcomings were revealed here and there, in the uneven quality of Chien’s trills and ornaments and, only slightly, in Hristova’s confidence in double-stop passages.
The slow movement of that sonata, although note-perfect, did not sweep me off my feet, however, in a way reminiscent of the pair’s somewhat boring way with Mozart’s Sonata in A, K. 526, at the concert’s opening. There was no lack of prowess in the flowing runs of the first movement, taken with little to no rubato, almost mechanically and with an occasionally abrasive edge from the piano. Again the slow movement was pretty enough but disappointingly plain, too well behaved.
A newer fantasy for violin and piano, “Swan Song” by David Ludwig, seemed better suited to Hristova’s strengths. Hristova brought a sweet tone on the high strings to the opening, accompanied by ghostly tremolos and notes plucked by the pianist directly on the strings. A buzzing tarantella-like section, with an obsessive triplet motif, showed off her agile left hand.