Sunday Dec. 5 marked the Boston debut of violinist Caroline Goulding at the Gardner Museum. She is the First Prize winner of the 2009 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, has performed on National Public Radio’s From the Top series four times, won a 2010 Grammy for her debut CD on Telarc and has performed with orchestras such as Cleveland, Dallas, and Detroit. And she’s still only seventeen.
By all appearances, Goulding is destined for great things. She has technique by the barrel-load, a diminutive, attractive physical and stage presence, and a charming manner when addressing the audience. Moreover, she has been carefully and thoughtfully trained, which is evident both from her outstanding technical facility and the intelligent choices made in her program.
The program opened with John Corigliano’s contemporary standard, The Red Violin Caprices. Corigliano, whose stature as one of the major living American composers is firmly established, was the son of a violinist with the New York Philharmonic. This brief work, an essay on the leitmotiv from his Academy Award-winning soundtrack for the 1999 film, The Red Violin, shows a deep familiarity with Paganini’s Caprices and the solo works of Bach for violin, while still being completely personal in sound. Goulding captured both the melancholy poignancy of the theme and the flashy variations thereon with equal skill.
The next work was the Sonata in b minor by Ottorino Respighi. For listeners familiar with only the far more famous “Roman” tone poems or the Ancient Aires and Dances, this was a surprise. Its language is far more late-late romantic, veering into Zemlinsky and Weimar territory, yet still sweet and Italianate. It is a formidable work, and Goulding and her able accompanist, Shuai Wang, more than adequately addressed its technical challenges. At times Goulding’s playing seemed to skim the emotional surface, but it is hard to fault a player of this age, when so much was so well done.
Then we heard Giuseppe Tartini’s fiendishly difficult “Devil’s Trill” Sonata in g minor. This was performed with harpsichord, which made for a delightful aural contrast with the heavier Respighi. According to legend, Tartini wrote this work upon waking from a dream in which he heard the Devil himself playing this work on the violin. Whether that was just good marketing on Tartini’s part, or the truth, it takes major chops to pull off the double trills and other technical difficulties. Goulding certainly did that, though her interpretation occasionally seemed a bit mannered, and her gestures too oversized for the intimate size of the Gardner Tapestry Room.
With the major works of the program accomplished, Goulding addressed the audience to thank them for coming and to announce that the next four works were all “short and cute”, (“Just like you!” called out one audience member). In these works, Goulding seemed utterly relaxed and really enjoying herself. Her interpretation of the Brahms Hungarian Dances No. 1 in g minor and No. 7 in A Major, and the Tchaikovsky Melody in E flat were both witty and saucy, truly gypsy-like.
The final work was two of the Four Souvenirs by contemporary composer Paul Schoenfield, Tin Pan Alley and Square Dance. These were jazzy little numbers which particularly showed off the talents of Shuai Wang, who had done an outstanding job in a widely varying program.
Goulding’s performance showed both the impressive things she has accomplished to date and left one hungry to anticipate where she will take this formidable talent in the future.