Violinist Gil Shaham, not quite 30, is at a ripening stage in his musical life: past the point of being a tender newcomer but shy of the proverbial mid-career stretch. As demonstrated in his recital at UCLA's Royce Hall on Friday, with the fine, articulate pianist Akira Eguchi beside him, Shaham is a musician with virtually all the right stuff. Boasting a beauteous tone and a relaxed technical command (notwithstanding a few intonational wrinkles early on), Shaham impressed by dint of not trying too hard to impress, instead heeding the call of applied musicality.
That said, Friday's program veered in many directions, to the benefit of diversity but sometimes the detriment of over-arcing coherence. It was, all told, a somewhat oddly paced set, starting with the alternately poised reflections and contrapuntal glee of Bach's Sonata No. 3 in E, BWV 1016, then veering sharply into the romantic turf of Beethoven's Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Opus 3, No. 2. To the former, Shaham and Eguchi brought burnished, interactive grace: to the latter, a controlled fire.
The going got lighter as the evening progressed. After intermission, Shaham ventured into shorter, slighter works--amiable 20th century fare--each of which illuminated different aspects of his playing. He brought aptly singing phrasing to Prokofiev's sweet "Five Melodies," and the right detached wit to the jazzy comic relief of Copland's "Ukelele Serenade" (the composer's misspelling). Here, tonal tensions between players' parts conspire to an end more goofy than angst-filled, and at one point, Shaham turned his Stradivarius into a strummed proxy of a ukulele.