Few first impressions could be as favorable as that left by the violinist Uto Ughi in his Washington debut yesterday afternoon. In a remarkably beautiful concert at the National Institutes of Health, the 37-year-old Italian made it clear that he is an artist headed for greatness.

The sound of his instrument was so firm and voluptuous that its agility came as a surprise. Ughi articulated the cleanest trills as easily as he spun the sweetest, longest lines. And most of all he showed that rarest gift for building boundless freedom within the limits of the score, of bending each phrase to serve the music and its feelings. His performance was not free of flaws, but the few resulted from risks well worth taking. This performer was not timid.

Bach's Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin was sublime. Its familiar Gigue was truly a dance to life. Albert Schweitzer once remarked that the Chaconne at the finale conjured a world of sorrow and resignation, yet in Ughi's youthful treatment there was that and more: The single theme was woven into music of hope, of peace beyond all suffering. It was shattering.

In Handel's Sonata in D Major, which opened the concert, the expansive piano of Leon Pommers was well suited to Ughi's passionate reading. Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata in A Major was quite an appropriate finale. Ughi plays a Stradivarius once owned by Rudolphe Kreutzer, a renowned musician who thought this gift from Beethoven too difficult to play or even understand. Ughi had no such doubts, and the Strad could not be in finer hands today.