Until just before the intermission of his recital yesterday afternoon at the Corcoran Gallery, violinist Timothy Baker sounded More like an also-ran than the first-prize winner of the 1978 Bach International Competition. Sonatas by Pergolesi and Schubert were delivered with an inelegant tone, uncertain intonation and indifferent phrasing. But, appropriately enough, when he turned to Bach's Chaconne from the D minor Partita, Baker began to demonstrate the full range of his gifts, the technical prowness and interpretive flair that have brought him wide recognition.

As he delved deep into the tortuous solo, the violinist confidently exposed its inner secrets, and, if his bowing still had a rough edge to it in many places, the intensity of his approach was quite convincing. That committment carried Baker through the remainder of the program, inspiring a performance level that bore no recognizable relation to the insipid playing that had started things off.

Prokofiev's Second Sonata alternately purred and sizzled just as it should, with some first-rate fingering in the finale. The rhapsodic "Meditation" by Tchaikovsky brought out Baker's warmest tone and most sensitive phrasing, while Ravel's "Tsigane" was delivered with abundant panache. Sandra Rivers provided exemplary piano accompaniment.