Violinist Paul Huang makes impressive debut at Kennedy Center

Only 22, Taiwanese American violinist Paul Huang made an impressive debut Thursday evening, sailing through a substantial and varied program, and eliciting several standing ovations. Everything was propitious; the loan of a Stradivarius from a cultural foundation, the collaboration of a superb pianist in Jessica Osborne, joint sponsorship by the Young Concert Artists of Washington and the Washington Performing Arts Society (ensuring a nearly full Kennedy Center Terrace Theater), and Huang’s remarkable gifts, honed at Juilliard.

Huang’s comportment is professional, but there is a wide-eyed youthfulness, as well; he looks directly at the audience in expressive moments and unabashedly milks climaxes. His technical equipment is fully formed and equal to anything. Whether it was the fingered octaves in the Waxman “Carmen Fantasie,” the perfectly articulated staccato strokes in the third movement of the Saint-Saens D minor Sonata or the modern acrobatics of Corigliano’s “Red Violin Caprices,” Huang never betrayed a hint of strain. He draws his bow at a precise right angle to the strings at all times and makes the sound though bow speed rather than pressure. The result is a sparkling clean, airy tone, further enhanced by pinpoint intonation, so the entire instrument rings.

The only quibble would be that his vibrato, while expressive, is not as varied as it will likely become with more seasoning and experience. Done exclusively from the wrist, it sometimes conveys a bit of a wobble, particularly up high. Musically, he reacts to and brings out surface feelings (especially whimsy) more easily than deeper ones. And while the virtuosity in the Ysaye “Ballade” was very impressive, it would have been more so with greater fidelity to the composer’s rhythms. All that said, Huang is definitely an artist with the goods for a significant career.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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