Pianist Mei-Ting Sun raked in top honors at the recent American National Chopin Piano Competition and will travel to Poland this autumn to participate in the prestigious international Chopin competition, whose past winners include such superstars as Maurizio Pollini and Martha Argerich. On Sunday afternoon at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum as part of his cross-country victory tour, the gifted 24-year-old Chinese American pianist gave a polished recital that displayed a colossal technique and hinted at a vivid, if still ripening, musical imagination.

Sun brought out the full measure of Bela Bartok's unforgiving Etudes, Op. 18. This dense work permits little flexibility, yet Sun mastered the work's complex structure with fleet phrasing and a steely rhythm. Whether in the droning figures in the initial movement or the ghostly, insistent figures of the ensuing section, Sun gave a bold account that balanced detail with sweep.

It was in the more pliable romantic works that it became apparent that Sun's musical ideas are still developing. He frequently shifted tempos and exaggerated phrases in Chopin's Preludes, Op. 28. Sun clearly reveled in his ability to conjure up a mood or stretch the music's textures, giving more of a sense that he was discovering the outlines of the music himself rather than presenting a consistent interpretation.

Surprisingly, Sun created the opposite effect in Beethoven's Piano Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier"), in which rigid, lightning tempos sacrificed some of this enormous work's bountiful harmony and character. Fortunately, Sun played the celestial Adagio with a ruminative grace that indicated the promising direction in which his musical talents are developing.

-- Daniel Ginsberg