The viola is called the “Cinderella of the strings” because it often plays in the shadows of the violin and cello. But at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Thursday night, it took center stage in a recital by Ori Kam, whose expressive and lyrical performance kicked off the S&R Foundation’s Overtures Spring Concert Series.
Playing a 2009 viola made by Hiroshi Iizuka, Kam projected a warm, honeyed tone flecked with spice. As he progressed through his program, Kam’s timbre turned increasingly complex, like a fine cabernet sauvignon on the palate.
In Brahms’s Sonata No. 2 in E-Flat Major, Op. 120, the violist commanded a full-bodied romantic sound and molded it into melodic lines — here feathery sweet, there molten caramel. They spiraled in conversation with dramatic and supportive harmonies provided by pianist Nelson Padgett.
Kam’s ability to craft long phrases, as a vocalist would sing lieder, served him well in an arrangement of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata in A Minor, D. 821. His interpretation of the work was full of emotions, which flowed one after another during its three movements — loving, whimsical, plaintive, agitated and, finally, serene.
Similarly, George Enesco’s “Concertpiece” elicited a darker timbre, but Kam never compromised his tone’s singing quality.
Alone onstage, the soloist created the aural illusion of a viola duo playing in two Telemann fantasies. Several sustained high notes wavered precariously in Fantasy No. 11, but Kam’s toe-tapping finale dashed them away, just as he exuded confidence in a playful Fantasy No. 12.
Jean is a freelance writer.