Tessa Lark’s recital of violin music on Wednesday evening, in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, was a brilliant showcase of a promising young virtuoso, carefully planned and beautifully executed. Having completed her Master’s degree at the New England Conservatory in May of this year, Tessa Lark is the winner of the 2012 Naumburg Violin Award and already has a constellation of awards, medals, festival performances and tours to her name, in locales from Santa Fe to Beijing. Not only thoroughly cosmopolitan, Ms Lark continues to perform Kentucky bluegrass fiddling, where she put down her earliest musical roots. With Renata Gutman at the piano, Ms. Lark performed a broad range of styles and techniques that prove her to have great promise as a formidable artistic voice.

Tessa Lark
Tessa Lark

The Weill Recital Hall in Manhattan is a beautiful space, tucked in an especially sumptuous corner of the third floor of the Carnegie Hall building. The golden trim around fluted columns gleams behind the open grand piano. Large, elegant crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling over pastel blue curtains and velvet carpeting. As the house lights dim and the stage lights grow richer and brighter, the rectangular hall resembles nothing so much as a giant jewelry box.

A delicate setting for intricate and subtle work, Weill was the perfect place for Tessa Lark to pull an astounding range of sounds out of her violin. The first half of the program consisted of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Fantasia no. 7 in E flat major, followed by Béla Bartók’s Violin Sonata no. 1; respectively, the oldest and newest pieces on the program. The Telemann emanated effortlessly from her strings, some of the faster figurations so airy and light, they almost weren’t there at all. A Baroque palate-cleanser, the Fantasia was a great way to ease the packed house into her sound and style.

With the Bartók, the Tessa Lark who won the competition showed herself. The gnarled counterpoint and obsessive repetition of rhythms in the Allegro appassionato whirled off her bow, and the sharp edge on her sound suddenly made perfect sense. The aggressive style and thick texture that characterizes much of Bartók’s string writing is a great challenge with this piece, and Lark delivered with flying colors. With the Adagio movement, and the final Allegro, the Kentucky fiddle popped into my head. This was a fiddling energy that she brought to Bartók, who himself was driven to live, breathe, and speak the musical language of the Hungarian people he studied.

The second half of the program was less sweeping in scope, starting off with Felix Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F major, followed by a medley of Kentucky fiddle tunes and ending with a show piece by Henryk Wieniawski entitled Variations on an original theme. Mendelssohn’s sonata was well and thoroughly done; however, Lark’s titanic, irrepressible sound at points overwhelmed the musical material. Lark’s sound was perfectly suited to Baroque, Classical, and modern or neoclassical styles, but on occasion Mendelssohn’s subtle harmonic motion simply appeared too small. The edge in Lark’s tone resurfaced, and I kept expecting ecstatic bursts of expression that never materialized. The Kentucky fiddle tune set marked a sudden moment of indecision, when a few members of the exceedingly well-mannered audience started stomping along. The result was about half of the full audience quietly stomping; I hadn’t known that stomping could carry a question mark.

The final, acrobatic Variations on an original theme by Wieniawski was hilariously facetious, and Lark pulled it off wonderfully: the juxtaposition of her gale-force profundity against the whimsical silliness of the music was absurd in the best way possible. The enthusiastic standing ovation earned her audience two encores, a ballad by the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, and a blazing bluegrass tune called “Bowing Strings” that sent us to our feet once more.