Paul Huang has some serious chops. He's an extremely talented young violinist and, based upon his concert Sunday afternoon, is someone who may very well develop into a great artist.
Who knows? Someday in the future, those folks who saw him for free as part of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society's "Gift to the Community" recital will have to pay considerably more to hear him.
Meanwhile, Sunday's performance can be considered a gift.
Huang's accompanist for the afternoon, Jessica Osborne, was another talent to watch out for. She played the piano with plenty of force when necessary but never crowded Huang out of the picture. The result was a great example of an underrated art - supporting the primary artist without disappearing into the background.
The first half of the program began with a Beethoven sonata (Op. 30, No. 3 in G major) that started off well enough but didn't make a great case for why Huang should be considered more than a really good player. Things kept improving over the course of the piece, however, as the duo wound its way through the second movement's minuet and finished with a take on the finale that sparkled with technical brilliance and artistic savvy.
Next, Huang and Osborne approached the three faster portions of Camille Saint-Saens' Sonata No. 1 in D minor (op. 75) with plenty of fire, while creating a convincing segue into the second movement adagio before taking a break for the intermission.
By the time he took the stage for the final half of the concert, Huang was ready to show what he could do on his own. The result was an impassioned reading of Eugene Ysaye's Sonata No. 3 in D minor for solo violin. This is a tricky beast to get right, in part because it doesn't quite have the familiar charms of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, but it blazes a path toward Bela Bartok's great and challenging score for unaccompanied violin. It's a showpiece that almost begs for a performance that transforms its difficulties into an ear-pleasing display item.
Luckily, Huang delivered the goods.
Osborne joined the violinist during the balance of the recital as they wove their way through Olivier Messiaen's idiosyncratic "Theme and Variations" and a set of shorter pieces by other composers. They did a sensitive turn with Ravel's "Habanera," invested life into an interesting arrangement of Debussy's "La plus que lente" and delivered a barn-burning take on Franz Waxman's fantasy on themes drawn from Bizet's opera, "Carmen."
The audience gave the twosome a standing ovation - and got a lively version of Bartok's "Romanian Dances" in return.
While the crowd really turned out for the Huang and Osborne portion of the afternoon concert, fewer showed up for the brief recital by the Buffalo Suzuki Strings Friendship Touring Ensemble that preceded the headliners.
That's too bad in a way, because these young musicians played a more than acceptable program made up of various movements from the workshops of Vivaldi, Grieg and Tchaikovsky, along with a clever arrangement of the "Orange Blossom Special" that was quite delightful.