It was a special homecoming for Durham native, Orin Laursen (violinist). Presently a masters’ candidate at New England Conservatory, Laursen has a local following as a young, talented celebrity. On this occasion Greg McCallum, a concert pianist and teacher, joined him. McCallum was Laursen’s piano teacher and is now his professional mentor. Together, they performed two pillars of the violin sonata canon: Grieg’s Sonata in C minor and Franck’s Sonata in A. McCallum also played two short pieces by Ravel. The recital took place in the Nelson Music Room on the campus of Duke University.

The duo opened with the last of Grieg’s three violin sonatas. Written in 1887, Sonata in C minor, Op. 45 is rich with the air of Norwegian tradition. It begins with a bold, almost startling statement for the violin. But it is the piano figuration that reveals Grieg’s fingerprint. McCallum and Laursen captured the essence of the piece – the earthy tones and dramatic landscape. Laursen played with superb technical skill and as he grows with the music, I’m certain that it will become a signature piece. I look forward to hearing them play it again.

The presentation of great art sometimes meets unusual obstacles. When Rudolph Kreutzer refused to play Beethoven’s Sonata in A, it was premiered by the virtually unknown violinist, George Bridgetower. Likewise, César Franck (1822-1890) wrote his Sonata for Violin and Piano in A (1866) for the virtuoso violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe. As luck would have it, the premiere was a failure – inadequate lighting. In the end, Beethoven’s Kreutzer and Franck’s sonata form bookends of the romantic works for violin and piano.

To our good fortune, Franck’s work remains among the favorites of fine players, as well as the modern audiences, and for good reason. The innovative form, the colorful contrasts and technical weight call for, and grab our attentions. But what sets the piece apart is the demand for intimate communication between the players. Laursen and McCallum have that keen sense of trust that leads to fine music making. Seamlessly joining melodic threads that create intricate phrasing, they lifted the music as if they were flying in tandem. At ease with the delicate workings of the bow, Laursen drew from an extensive color palette. It was an impressive performance.

McCallum paired Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau” (1902) and “Ondine” from Gaspard de la nuit (1908) to form a perfect interlude between the violin sonatas. McCallum’s precision and artistry left me wanting more.

Laursen plays with deep understanding and artistry. His love of chamber music and collaborative skills make him a versatile musician. We wish him well as he navigates the world of music as a mature player. From the vantage point of this evening’s performance, this is just the beginning!

Laursen was greeted by friends and chamber music aficionados and a special guest who made the trek from western North Carolina. From the stage, he thanked his first violin teacher, Mrs. Karen McDougall, a gesture that speaks volumes.