Violinist Augustin Hadelich at the Kennedy Center

Violinist Augustin Hadelich (in 2006) played his first recital at the Kennedy Center with a program ranging from Bartók to Sarasate.
Violinist Augustin Hadelich (in 2006) played his first recital at the Kennedy Center with a program ranging from Bartók to Sarasate. (By Rosalie O'connor)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Augustin Hadelich is in touch with the sunny side of a violin. He can dig in; he can probe; he can make the instrument bark when the music calls for it. But his default seems to be the warm lyrical joy of lilting melody.

The 24-year-old made his Kennedy Center recital debut on Sunday evening with a program that included one from every column of the virtuoso menu, from Bartók's final, wrenching, unaccompanied sonata to the fireworks of Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy." But the opening Beethoven Sonata No. 8 in G set the general tone: as happy and un-neurotic a piece as Beethoven produced, certainly in these hands.

Hadelich, born in Italy to German parents, is a Juilliard product whose career moved into high gear when he won the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 2006 (perks include a recording, the use of a 17th-century Stradivarius and a solo recital on the main stage of Carnegie Hall). His background was unconventional: He started formal training relatively late, initially studying with his father, who is not a violinist himself. (It was also marked with trauma: The violinist was badly burned in a fire at age 15, and still bears the physical scars on his face and bow hand.)

This early training may make Hadelich the musical equivalent of tennis's Williams sisters, who also took an unorthodox route to great success. Certainly he is not a standard-issue virtuoso. He has tremendous technical fluency, but he reaches far beyond that, putting it in the service of articulate, even poetic communication.

The Bartók, for me a highlight, contained a universe of different kinds of sounds: feathery little bow strokes; a gritty bark at the beginning of the second movement's challenging fugue; a thin gentle line, clear and singing, in the lyrical meditation at the heart of the third movement. Intense, even searing, as his performance was, it was never a downer; there was an inner sense that this particular journey came out all right in the end, despite a slip of the bow at one point in the final movement.

The pianist Rohan De Silva contributed to the positive mood with playing that was springy, notably resilient, marked with striking rubatos in places (including both the Beethoven and Prokofiev's second sonata), and generally rather contented, with the inner satisfaction of a cat on a windowsill.

The Prokofiev, another generally wholesome piece, bracing and smacking sometimes of toy soldiers, was followed by the Sarasate, which Hadelich made into something more than pure fluff. He conveys a sense that music is worthwhile; and his sunniness derives, perhaps, from bearing talent like a gift, rather than a weight upon his shoulders.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company