Sunday, October 5, 2008

Perlman performs on Harriman-Jewell Series to sold-out Folly Theater

By Paul Horsley

When violinist Itzhak Perlman plays a sad, noble tune like the Gavotta theme from Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, the lyricism and warmth grabs you by the lapels. There’s something of heart-open, Old World violin tradition there — a nostalgia, perhaps, for what music was like before Sumi Jo and Yanni.

Saturday’s sold-out Harriman-Jewell Series recital had too few such moments for my taste. Perlman is a central virtuoso of the last 50 years and a wonderful humanitarian, but this was not one of his better nights. Moreover, it’s virtually the same recital he’s offered up the last half-dozen times I’ve heard him.

The menu rarely varies: Baroque sonata, Beethoven maybe, Brahms or Frank or something mildly edgy but not too, and finally a long series of bon-bons. Sprinkled, of course, with the exact same jokes and the age-old shtick where the violinist searches aimlessly for the score to the next piece.

There were rewarding moments. Perlman and his pianist, Rohan De Silva, were best in the Stravinsky suite, arranged from the composer’s Pulcinella. Its idiom suited both players just fine, and the sense of interplay was that of two old friends who know intimately each other’s strengths and foibles. In the slow passages, Perlman displayed his delicious long line, though in fortissimos the tone could turn chalky and brittle.

The program began with a LeClair Sonata in D major, sweet and familiar. Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor (Op. 30, No. 2) was next, where De Silva made clear that this was a piece for violin and piano. I’ve long admired his musicianship, but here he seemed rattled and in a hurry. The duo missed much of the inner turmoil here. In the Scherzo, for example, they chose virtual parody over elegant, muscular self-assertion.

The encores — old favorites all — included Kreisler’s beautiful Andantino in the Style of Martini, two delicious Tchaikovsky pieces (Humoresque and Chanson sans paroles) and Bazzini’s mindless Dance of the Goblins. Again the Perlman gifts were heard to best advantage in the lyrical works.