Russian violin virtuoso Mikhail Simonyan offered bracing readings of two big sonatas — Brahms’s D Minor and Prokofiev’s F Minor — framed by shorter works of Arvo Part and Karol Szymanowski at a well-attended recital at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Saturday afternoon.
Simonyan, who first appeared at the Kennedy Center in 2001 (at the 35th anniversary gala) is still in his 20s but projects unruffled, seasoned mastery. His bow-arm is a thing of wonder, powerful and seamless. He displayed a perfect, biting sautille stroke in Ottokar Novacek’s “Perpetuum mobile,” offered as an encore, and his hammering strokes in the second movement of the Prokofiev rang without ever scratching. His left hand is fleet and accurate, although the vibrato lacks variety and the natural beauty of the finest artists.
Certainly the Prokofiev was the high point of the recital, considerably aided by pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine, who found interesting and unusual textures in his music but never overbalanced Simonyan. The two artists captured the epic quality of the piece with deep understanding and a broad frame of aesthetic reference.
In the Brahms, Simonyan’s general carelessness with rhythms, and a willful pushing and pulling of tempos, marred the music from the first phrase onward. This otherwise-superlative artist would do well to re-examine the piece, with particular attention to how his parts are supposed to fit in with the those of the pianos.
The Szymanowski Nocturne and Tarantella is a rarely heard gem, and Simonyan’s flawless technical dispatch enhanced its impact.
The concert was presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Battey is a freelance writer.