|Pavel Berman divided his program between violin recital and chamber music.|
The 20-year-old violinist captured the Gold Medal and has returned to Indianapolis just once since then. In the meantime, he has enjoyed years of experience as concert artist and teacher. For about eight years starting in 1998, there was also considerable experience on the podium leading an orchestra he had founded in Lithuania.
On the evidence of his appearance in the IVCI Laureate Series Tuesday night, Berman has put the time since his triumph here to good use. He has put a masterly finish on his impressive command of a variety of repertoire during two intense September weeks three decades ago.
The first instance of that mastery came as the Laureate Series concert opened with Cesar Franck's Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major. With Chih-Yi Chen at the piano, Berman gave a performance notable for never peaking too soon, yet not selling short the carefully distributed emotional impact of the four-movement work. His tone had steadiness and depth. He and the pianist displayed a good sense of pacing, and their well-coordinated insights into the familiar piece had the effect of making the warm ovation at the end seem truly earned.
For an exhibition of greater color and virtuosity, Berman and Chen rounded out the program's first half with Pablo de Sarasate's "Carmen Fantasy." Thirty years ago Berman delivered an impressive account of this showpiece in the competition. On Tuesday night, I liked the deeply felt "fate" music toward the start, and the Habanera had just the right insouciance and drive. The more virtuoso episodes, presenting the Seguidilla and the Gypsy Dance from the parts of Bizet's "Carmen" representing the tumultuous abandon of Spanish gypsy life, had a few passages of blurry harmonics as demands on the violinist grew. On the whole, however, the performance had both clarity and bravura energy.
After intermission, the participation of the Ronen Chamber Ensemble came to the fore. Chen remained the pianist for Gian Carlo Menotti's Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, and Ronen co-founder David Bellman joined Chen and Berman. The first movement of the charming work featured lots of nimble exchanges among the instruments. Menotti's supple phrasing and melodic gift, known mostly from his many operas, were in evidence here. Dynamics were well coordinated among the three players, especially in pianissimo passages in the second movement. Adept fugal writing took over as the finale got under way, and the music seemed to evoke the saltarello dance music of the composer's Italian heritage.
Bellman and Berman welcomed a host of players, including co-founder and cellist Ingrid Fischer-Bellman, for the last work on the program, Franz Berwald's Grand Septet in B-flat major. The ensemble included Emilee Drumm, viola; Ju-Fang Liu, double bass, Mike Muszynski, bassoon, and Richard Graef, horn. The Swedish composer displays a conservative style, as if early Beethoven had seemed a style worth drawing upon well into the 19th century. The work features an arresting super-fast section in the middle of its slow movement; the resumption of the slow music thus conveyed a feeling of welcome relaxation. The bustling finale, remarkable mostly for its high spirits, had a piquant aspect in its repeated two-note blasts of horn in the midst of smooth-running energy from the other six players. The performance set a bright seal upon a concert that felt like a celebration — one reaffirming the first-class legacy of "the Indianapolis."