COSTA MESA — Virtuoso performers and great recitalists tend to be mutually exclusive groups.
The fiddler who astounds with the Tchaikovsky Concerto and the soprano who zonks High F's as the Queen of the Night--both show off their achievements, as well they might. But the musician who touches an audience with a Faure melodie, or sonata, is a bird of another color.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course. It is possible to be both a master technician and a master communicator. But, often. . . .
Violinist Elmar Oliveira and pianist Horacio Gutierrez, two celebrated American musicians who continue to command respect in their respective careers, made a rare duo appearance Friday night in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
They played a generous and demanding program of four standard works. Their performances had solidity, musicality and a modicum of personality.
Yet they provided few thrills, no surprises and a paucity of revelations. The two virtuosos--they are no longer in the young musician category, their combined ages now totaling 84--told us nothing new or compelling about these sonatas by Mozart (G-major, K. 379), Beethoven (Opus 30, No. 3), Ravel and Brahms (D-minor, Opus 108).
Here were readings of genuine honesty but apparently weak convictions, straightforward rhetoric but small passion.
Oliveira produced a luminous tone, perfectly reliable intonation and effortless accuracy most of the time, though his sound was in moments covered by the sheer size of the Steinway upon which Gutierrez played.
The pianist sailed through uncountable technical hurdles breezily, delivered stylistic and dynamic details conscientiously, yet seldom touched any of the many cores of strong feeling redolent in these works.
As a duo, the pair--in business suits rather than formal wear--seemed thoroughly prepared but operated without that spark between them that might have ignited into something musically extraordinary.
A sizable Orange County Philharmonic Society audience listened carefully and applauded politely in only the right places. Their patience proved admirable.