Violinist Ulrike Anima Mathe did something unusual and admirable in her Sunday afternoon Washington debut at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Unlike the many young players who walk into a debut out to prove they are technical wizards or speed demons, this 26-year-old German offered warmth, charm and consistently interesting musical ideas. Her concert with pianist Stephen Prutsman, one in a strong series sponsored by Young Concert Artists of Washington, comprised music by Beethoven, Korean-German composer Isang Yun, Debussy, Brahms and Kreisler, all of it well played and heartfelt.
Yun's "Royal Theme for Violin Solo" is a dissonant 1976 work with a spiritual (if not literal) connection to Bach's complex music for unaccompanied violin. Despite minor glitches, Mathe brought clarity to the structure and rhythm of the work, outlining the five-note theme vigorously as it returned in many forms. Also notable was Mathe's beautiful sense of line in the Brahms Sonata No. 1 in G and Kreisler's "Liebeslied," which served as an encore. This wasn't note-perfect playing, but Mathe clearly loves the Brahms, and she made the overall shape of the piece work beautifully.
Both Mathe and Prutsman played most of the recital from memory, certainly an advantage, and Prutsman proved himself a sensitive accompanist from the beginning. At times, the piano remained too far in the background: Prutsman could have played louder in his strongest moments. But he never failed to listen and, like Mathe, brought real understanding to the works.