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RECITAL REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Thursday, October 20, 2016
Itzhak Perlman, violin; Rohan De Silva, piano

Violinist Itzhak Perlman in Weill Hall Oct. 20 (Cory Weaver Photo)

ARTISTRY AND AMPLE RELAXED CHARM AT PERLMAN RECITAL IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 20, 2016

Itzhak Perlman has fashioned a career that encompasses more than virtuoso violin performance, and includes teaching, narrating musical documentaries, score editing, humanitarian projects, charity events and an often an easy “ah shucks” demeanor that is always beguiling.

With pianist Rohan de Silva Oct. 20 in Weill Mr. Perlman programed just four works, but a balanced four that delighted a full house in Weill that included 70 stage seats. I don’t recall recital stage seats since Lang Lang’s Weill concert five years ago, or a recent sold out house for a classical music.

Following remarks by SSU President Judy Sakaki regarding Mr. Perlman’s celebrity status and her own recent appearance with an SSU ensemble, Vivaldi’s Op. 2 A Major Sonata was played. It was a classic warm up piece, pleasant with minimal vibrato and quickly forgotten.

Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne in the Samuel Dushkin arrangement came next, a masterful development of a banal theme into six intriguing parts that the violinist has played throughout his career. There is even a video of a White House performance before President Reagan, and that was 36 years ago. Mr. Perlman, using sheet music as he did all evening, played the contrasting sections with low-temperature aplomb, never forcing his tone. His trademark silvery bow technique and deft spiccato served this music well.

In the romping Tarantella Vivace Mr. de Silva’s piano line covered the violin, and in the familiar Gavotte Mr. Perlman’s notes in the low register didn’t sound. The double stops and dance figures of the Minuetto whirled to the end, and control of E-string effects was impressive. At 71 his command is still formidable.

Unfortunately Mr. Perlman's artistry has embraced less sonic projection than in past years, and this hobbled a lyrical but too often flaccid reading of Beethoven’s F Major Sonata (Spring), Op. 24. His lovely tonal equipment was of course present in this iconic work, but the playing never rose to even minor grandeur in the 1,400-seat Hall. Mr. de Rohin was of little help here, his scales downplayed to match the violin line and consequently were indistinct and muddy. Of course many small examples of consummate violin playing were on display, including deftly-held notes at the end of a phrase, perfectly-gauged vibrato and subtle control of slower-than-usual tempo in the concluding Rondo. It was a masterpiece played caressingly but never passionately.

Ravel’s G Major Sonata occupied the second half in a workmanlike performance that unlike the Ida Kavafian performance (earlier the same day at Oakmont) was of moderate temperature. In the Allegretto, the only Impressionistic part of the 1927 work, the playing was subdued and the piano and violin seemed at times to go their own way. Mr. Perlman captured Ravel’s unique timbre and color that reflected harmonies taken from the composer’s 1905 “Une Barque Sur L’Ocean” piano work. It was a richly hued mirror of the Impressionist “Miroirs.”

Some of the evening’s best playing came in the blues-infused second movement where the violin seemed to whine and sway under the virtuoso’s careful control. The Perpetuum Mobile finale past quickly and was delightful in character but was lacking in dramatic punch.

A standing ovation ensued and encores were expected. Four were performed, and the now well-known Perlman-de Rohan “skit” of bringing out a pile of sheet music for consultation (as to which to play) was enacted. Most concert goers know that possible encore music is assiduously rehearsed, but depending on your outlook this little drama is either affected or charming. The Weill audience was of the latter opinion and loved the passing of scores and Mr. Perlman’s facetious comments on “probably” playing encores in the same auditorium in 1912.

Several Fritz Kreisler transcriptions were forthcoming, the most persuasive being a lovely slow fox-trot dance with a bantamweight ending to begin the series, and the Tambourin-Chinois that ended it. The Tambourin was played with élan but Mr. Perlman chose a leisurely tempo that lessened the difficulty but enhanced the magic of the piece.

As a respite from showpieces one encore was the theme from the movie “Schindler’s List,” and at the last notes the audience was spellbound and for several moments silent.