Caroline Goulding impresses at the Terrace

10.24.10
Caroline Goulding
Washington Times

BY TERRY PONICK

The Young Concert Artists Series (YCA) launched its 32nd Washington DC season in the nation's capitol Friday evening with an eclectic recital by young American violinist Caroline Goulding, whose program ranged from Tartini to Corigliano. Her Terrace Theater performance, ably accompanied by pianist Shuai Wang, was co-presented under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society's (WPAS) Kreeger String Series.

?Attired, appropriately, in a stunning red gown, Ms. Goulding began her program with a performance of John Corigliano's "Red Violin Caprices." Penned in 1999 as part of the score for François Girard's eponymous film about a seemingly cursed instrument and the largely tragic lives it touches, the caprices are said by the composer to underline its key plot elements.

Unlike some of Corigliano's more challenging modernist scores, the Caprices-performed without accompaniment--are tonal, melodic, and anchored in Romantic sensibilities. Ms. Goulding gave them a spirited reading, thoughtfully dwelling on some of the work's quieter moments while speeding through its gypsy-like dance moments with considerable abandon.

As if to embellish on the Corigliano, Ms. Goulding next offered Ottorino Respighi's "Sonata in B minor for violin and piano." This edgy, interesting composition is quite a surprise for those familiar only with this 20th century composer's popular orchestral tone poems such as the "Pines of Rome" or with his low-key transcriptions/adaptations of ancient Italian music.

In this Sonata, Respighi, usually easy in his preferred late-Romantic idiom, surprises with rather daring excursions into the realm of extended tonality, the innovative, post-Romantic road taken by Korngold, Zemlinksy, and others as an alternative to harsh sounds characteristic of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School.

The Sonata, not often performed on these shores, is a crackerjack virtuoso piece containing loads of complex, challenging passages for the violin, all of which Ms. Goulding handled with the greatest of ease. The music is intellectually challenging as well, and Ms. Goulding often, though not always, was able to discover this inner core.

An added bonus in the Respighi is the fact that it's specifically written for violin AND piano. While the violin does play the dominant role, the piano portion of the work, part accompaniment, part virtuostic, places considerable demands upon the pianist. Ms. Wang displayed considerable skill here, moving behind the violinist when required, but bursting forth with passion and skill when the score called for it. The talent of both artists united to make the Respighi, arguably, the surprise musical highlight of the evening.

However, after a brief intermission, Ms. Goulding and Ms. Wang reappeared to offer a second half that, if intellectually less thought-provoking, was, musically, both tuneful and virtuostic.

And speaking of virtuostic-the program's second half commenced with Tartini's notoriously difficult "Violin Sonata in G minor," aka, the "Devil's Trill." This well-known composition is notable for the fiendish and seemingly endless series of tricky trills that dominate roughly the final third of this sonata, which, as legend would have it, were somehow mysteriously transmitted to Tartini by the devil himself.

In any event, the "Devil's Trill" sonata is not infrequently offered in today's debut recitals as a way for the violinist to prove his or her chops. If that was Ms. Goulding's intent Friday evening, she certainly passed the Devil's challenge with flying colors. She also added to her laurels by winning bonus points for showmanship. Symbolically, that attention-grabbing red gown was perhaps a sly wink at Tartini as well as the Devil. And after all, this recital took place on the virtual eve of Halloween-a nice programming touch. Surely, not all of this was left to chance?

Ms. Goulding and Ms. Wang next easily breezed into two of Brahms' "Hungarian Dances," No. 1 in G minor and No. 7 in A major. Although an ethnic German hailing from Hamburg, Brahms early on was smitten by Hungarian gypsy music, incorporating its sound, attitudes, and moods into a series of orchestral and solo-based dance pieces that remain wildly popular around the world, even today.

Catchy, romantic, melancholy, happy, and sad, the dances are expressive of many moods. Ms. Goulding was particularly good at picking up on their playful aspects, and her approach to these sometimes over-played works was light, earnest, and yet quite expressive.

Wrapping up the evening's program, Ms. Goulding first cleansed the musical palate, as it were, with a thoughtful performance of Tchaikovsky's wistful "Mélodie in E-flat major for violin and piano," Op. 42, No. 3. She concluded with a delightful interpretation of to selections from contemporary Jewish American composer Paul Schoenfield's 1989 "Four Souvenirs."

The first of these "Souvenir" selections, entitled "Tin Pan Alley," was a pleasant riff on the show music of yesteryear that seemed to pay a bittersweet, nostalgic tribute to those melancholy moments on a late-evening dance floor in a bygone era. Both violinist and pianist seemed to grasp its wraith-like appeal. The second selection, entitled "Square Dance" was less that than it was a get-down hoe-down, a rhythmic, frantically-paced whirling dervish virtuoso piece that provided Ms. Goulding with a dazzling way to wrap up an already impressive evening.

The enthusiastic audience wanted more, and both artists complied with a brief, slippery, almost naughty encore of George Gershwin's memorable tune, "It Ain't Necessarily So," the signature song of sleazy "Sportin' Life" in the composer's Porgy and Bess. Arranged by Jascha Heifetz for violin and piano, it was an antic way to end a super recital with a wink and a promise of more appearances to come.

At age 17, Ms. Goulding is already a most impressive talent with all the skills and talent an artist needs to climb to the top. The only thing somewhat missing in Friday's excellent recital was a bit more depth and understanding of the material's subtexts-the often melancholy thoughts, regrets, and conflicted feelings that lend greater expression and individuality to the notes that appear on the page. Or, as the late Frank Zappa once said in a more puckish vein, the stuff that "puts the eyebrows on it."  When Ms. Goulding latches on to this-as did Hillary Hahn not that long ago-her now-blooming career will be indeed hard to stop.

On a personal note, I was delighted to see that both Ms. Goulding and Ms. Wang are continuing their studies and careers in and around the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Cleveland, Ohio, my old home town-today alternately the fashionable, evergreen punching bag for late-night, has-been comic hacks, or noted in tour books only for its fine but overly-hyped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-has long been home-base for what is still one of the finest orchestras in the world: the Cleveland Orchestra. Regular attendance at Cleveland Orchestra concerts many years ago-many of them under the baton of the legendary George Szell-is what drove my own involvement in classical music and the arts.

The Cleveland Institute itself, housed in buildings surrounding the orchestra's newly-and brilliantly-renovated Severance Hall home, affords Cleveland Institute students the significant advantage of frequent contact with the orchestra's principals as well as regular encounters with the world's finest music and the world's greatest performers. It remains one of the best places in the country for serious young musicians to hone their craft and to develop and launch a career as Friday's fine recital demonstrates. The Rust Belt may have its problems these days. But Cleveland's University Circle community, happily, is not one of them.