Violinist Benjamin Beilman, just 20, walked out onto the stage of the Mary Seaton Room by himself after Sunday's intermission and really came into his own with a superb performance of Prokofiev's Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 115.
It's a work with a charmingly playful and tuneful first movement, a piquant theme and variations, and a jocular, exciting finale, all consuming not more than 12 or 13 minutes, and written in the open style required in 1947 to placate the Soviet authorities' notions of political correctness.
Beilman's performance brimmed with warmth and breadth, and did not try to make the music any more profound than it was. The result was a minor triumph.
He was then rejoined by pianist Anna Polonsky in the Wilhelm transcription of Wagner's seldom-played 1861 "Albumblatt." Sweet and sentimental, with a mildly agitated midsection, it was superbly played by the duo and served as an excellent bridge between the Prokofiev and the recital's closing virtuoso showpiece, the "Carmen Fantasie Brilliante." This is Jeno Hubay's take on the tunes from Bizet's ubiquitous opera.
It's an episodic work that allowed each Bizet theme to have its unadorned moment in the spotlight, then garnished them with rapid spiccato passages, fiendishly difficult string crossings, upper register pyrotechnics, slippery glissando and other technical challenges, all dispatched by Beilman with both ease and finesse. The large audience exploded with applause, shouts and cheers.
The first half of the recital consisted of Bach's Sonata in E Major, BWV 1016, and Prokofiev's Sonata in F minor, Op. 80. While the performances were technically secure, Beilman did not seem to feel as comfortable here as in the second half of the program, and his sound did not project with the same authority. Consequently, while there was no evidence that Polonsky was playing too assertively, she did project a spontaneity that was often lacking in the violin.
Stylistically, the Bach Sonata was given a straightforward performance with no hint of trying to emulate "period" techniques or phrasing. In the first movement, the violin's phrasing was a bit lethargic. The partnership was best in the thoughtful Adagio third movement, whose pensive interchanges were well projected.
The dark, severe Prokofiev Violin Sonata in F minor was gestating from 1938 on but was not premiered until 1946. In performance it seems to emerge from the deep, with strong, dramatic gestures that the piano communicated more effectively than the violin. Here the two artists found most common ground in the softly flowing rhapsodic ruminations of the muted third movement, where a sense of mystery was well projected.
The finale's slow, pensive, pianissimo ending was also chillingly effective, but for much of the journey, as in the Bach sonata, the violin seemed reticent to match the piano's sense of freedom and authority.