Review: An Astral debut rich in ideas

Recitals tend to be constructed to show off the recitalist - this piece for technical flash, that one to highlight a capacity for expressivity and thought.

But for her Philadelphia recital debut Sunday afternoon at the Trinity Center, violinist Luosha Fang assembled ideas to bounce off one another. Who would think George Enescu had anything in common with Schubert? But, as pianist Ilya Poletaev told the audience, many Enescu works are unpublished, awaiting advocacy. So, too, was once the case with Schubert, whose epitaph as an unfinished composer was not contradicted until his full output was uncovered decades after death.

Enescu couldn't have hoped for better advocates. Fang, 27, a Curtis Institute graduate now under the wing of Astral Artists, and Poletaev (an alum of the program) highlighted everything that makes Enescu's Violin Sonata in A Minor, "Torso," so aesthetically unusual and beguiling. It's not just that it's beautiful. The magic comes from how often and suddenly the music morphs character; sometimes it hits on a mood for just a bar, or part of a bar, and then it becomes something else. References to Debussy and Brahms are sly, and both players shifted easily from great delicacy to generous sweetness.

Enescu's Romanian roots were grafted anew in Lautar for solo violin by Michael Djupstrom; the title refers to a certain kind of traditional musician. The work is short, but memorable and concentrated, and a smart appropriation of a folk-tune feel. The driving dance asked fiddler to simultaneously play melody and timekeeping pizzicatos with the left hand, which seemed like no demand at all for Fang.

That technique and quite a few others were used by Elliott Carter in two movements from Four Lauds for solo violin. Fang was a bit expressively restrained in the Bach Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, BWV 1017 that preceded the Lauds. But she was unbound in the Carter, dispelling any notion of Carter as dry or academic. It was here that she proved her full range - technically, expressively, and with a great sense of uncovering for the listener why this music is important.

When it comes to borrowing, Djupstrom had nothing on Alfred Schnittke, whose Gratulationsrondo in C Major was wholesale theft of Mozart. Aside from a subtle move or two at the end, this was music that could have been written 200 years ago (it dates from 1973), a point the performers acknowledged by eliding its finish with the start of Schubert's Fantasie for Violin and Piano in C Major, D. 934. Poletaev might be the most unassuming virtuoso around. Some of his thinking about phrasing is quite grand and expansive, yet he always balanced his velvety sound with Fang's. I've never been convinced this is great music, but violinist and pianist made it so.