Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Competition silver medalist Prunaru and pianist Chen conclude Laureate Series


Liviu Prunaru played honestly Tuesday night.

There was something so decided in Liviu Prunaru's manner when he discussed the kind of music-making he favors in an interview Sunday that I had little doubt he could deliver it on Tuesday night. And so he did, playing with the sincerity and honesty that he finds all too rare today among eminent concert artists, particularly violinists and pianists.

Still, I was stunned by the high level of consistency and polish of his demonstration at the Glick Indiana History Center, where he and pianist Chih-Yi Chen concluded the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis' 2012-13 Laureate Series.

A few minutes into the program, it was a treat to hear the bravura passages of Bedrich Smetana's From My Homeland given straightforward urgency, without excessive display. The discursive musical tribute to the composer's native Bohemia found the duo partnership of Prunaru and Chen in fine working order, changing tempos precisely together and exhibiting complementary dynamics.

Prunaru's extensive teaching and orchestral experience since he won the silver medal in the 1998 IVCI came through in interpretive restraint that never sounded academic. Time and again, he avoided tearing a passion to tatters in the shining Romantic standard  for violin-piano duo, Cesar Franck's Sonata in A major.

And  the rising figures that characteristically round off phrases in the first movement of Edvard Grieg's Sonata No. 3 in C minor got the respect of not being torn off in abandon as he lifted the bow cleanly off the strings. There's a tendency in Romantic music for performers to turn intense passages into excuses for sloppy inflection: "See how deeply I'm feeling this!" It was clear Prunaru was having none of that kind of thing.

When decoration seemed essential to the music being performed, as in Johan Severin Svendsen's  Romance in G major, the violinist made of every touch of fancy a natural utterance — unfussy and unaffected. His bow control was immaculate, but none of his technical aplomb compromised full emotional commitment to the music.

This was as true in Jeno Hubay's high-spirited Hejre Kati, which ended the scheduled program, as it was in the encore, a deep-toned Song Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn. The tender melody was enunciated beautifully by the duo in a performance dedicated to the memory of Josef Gingold, founder of the IVCI and distinguished professor at Indiana University.

One of the most famous inscriptions at the head of a masterpiece is Beethoven's "From the heart — may it go to the heart again," indicating how the composer hoped Missa Solemnis would be received. That could well be applied to the well-rounded directness of Prunaru's interpretations, seconded with equally plainspoken, heartfelt eloquence by the pianist.