Breaking from traditional recital repertoire, violinist Joan Kwuon presented a vigorous performance of 19th- and 20th-century works for her Washington area debut Sunday evening at George Mason University.
The Los Angeles native maintained an assertive presence on the Harris Theater stage by pursuing fortes unabatedly and employing a quick vibrato to spur on phrases. Her potent, sometimes terse, tone often had a jalapeno pepper effect on the ears; once inflamed, it refused to relent. But when Kwuon traipsed into softer territory, as she allowed in Stravinsky's "Duo Concertante," the results were poetic yet too ephemeral.
Though her unbridled fortissimos sounded passionate, they hardly balanced the emotional deficit in her music. Instead, Kwuon filled the void with colorful effects. With a glassy tone, she eked statements that sounded like a musical creaking door in George Enesco's Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 25. Her artistry also included tipsy double stops in Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 11, arranged by Joseph Joachim.
Kwuon's playing style has a bright, youthful edge that is conducive to speedy fingerwork. However, her tendency to sacrifice tuning for these mad dashes marred an otherwise solid performance of Tchaikovsky's Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34.
During much of the evening, Kwuon dominated the music. But in Andre Previn's "Tango, Song and Dance," she suddenly seemed conscious of pianist Jonathan Feldman's sensitive playing and sought a partnership that yielded the evening's best performance -- emotional and romantic, contemplative and sonorous, rhythmic and virtuosic.
-- Grace Jean