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May 18, 2009

Elmar Oliveira gives spirited recital for Community Concerts at Second

It has been quite a while since I've seen Elmar Oliveira in performance -- longer than I realized. The last time, he had hair.

Elmar OliveiraOliveira, the first and still only American violinist to earn a gold medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition (in 1978), was in town Sunday to give a recital for Community Concerts at Second. This was the organization's annual benefit to help support its otherwise free series of events at Second Presbyterian Church. The value of those many free concerts each season cannot be overstated. 

In a sonata-dominated program with pianist Robert Koenig (equally bald, by the way -- not that there's anything wrong with that), Oliveira demonstrated that his technique remains basically secure, his musicality refined. He hit a peak in Prokofiev's Sonata No. 1, a work that packs in a remarkable amount of drama and poetry. The violinist made much of the eerie, whispery flurries that suggest icy winds over a doomed landscape in the outer movements, and dug powerfully into the volatile scherzo. This is deep music, provocative music. Oliveira and Koenig made it ...

speak vividly.

A pair of A major sonatas by Mozart and Schubert passed by pleasantly, if without a great deal of charm and nuance. Those qualities were in abundance from both players, though, for the closing group of short pieces. The F.A.E. Scherzo by Brahms had lots of dash and fire. Two charming Heifetz transcriptions rounded things off, Rachmaninoff's Daisies and Ponce's Estrellita, both delivered quite stylishly, recalling a very different era from our own. Oliveira's tone had a delectable sweetness, his use of portamento was natural and elegant. A wonderful tribute to the Heifetz, still the gold standard of the violin world.

In case you never heard Heifetz play Daisies, I've appended a video filmed late in his career:


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:29 AM | | Comments (1)


I appreciate Tim Smith's positive review of the Oliveira recital at Second. I've been playing violin for 55 years and it's been my only career. My impression is that the Mozart and Schubert were rendered with beautiful charm and nuance, and in my opinion, more so than any Heifetz performance of Mozart or Schubert that I've ever heard. I had to leave after the second movement of the Prokofiev for a wedding gig. My personal "gold standard" consists of Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, and increasingly, Oliveira. I'm familiar with much of Elmar's work and was a little surprised at what seemed to me like his very mature, artistic and reverent performances of the Mozart and Schubert. For me, most of our great soloists miss the essence of the greatest classical (I include Schubert) composers. Oliveira combined the artistry of Szigeti with the mastery of Kogan. Are you familliar with Kogan? I appreciate your coverage of this great concert. Thank you for this nice review.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I'm an admirer of Szigeti and Kogan, although your message reminds me that I need to dig out my recordings of both men, as it has been too long since I listened to them. There definitely was something different about the old days, and Oliveira clearly has a great appreciation for that style.TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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