Perlman brings a relaxed, parlor-like informality to Celebrity Series recital

November 20, 2011 at 11:03 pm

By Angelo Mao

Itzhak Perlman performed works of Schubert, Brahms and Saint-Saens Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall.

The applause an artist receives at his or her entrance is a testament to the art of the concert: an initial give and take between artist and audience.

The Symphony Hall audience greeted violinist Itzhak Perlman with the sort of fervent reception that made it clear that Perlman was an old friend and a welcome guest. Perlman, who was appearing as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston, seemed to understand this well, and gave a relaxed and eloquent, if not always profound, performance.

The program was entirely Romantic, and nearly all Austro-Germanic. This is Perlman’s comfort zone, but also the genre of music in which his impassioned line is most effective.

Unfortunately, these pieces generally require equal participation from pianist and violinist. Perlman’s partner, Rohan de Silva, was curiously not up to par in the first part of the concert, sounding hesitant in Schubert’s assertive chords in the Rondeau brillant and shapeless in the first movement of Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 2. The result was that Brahms’s counterpoint sounded like snatches of an overheard conversation rather than a dialogue between partners.

Perlman emphasized the lyrical and virtuosic rather than the dramatic side Sunday, being declarative at sforzandos and fortissimos rather than forceful. Though always expressive, some of the pieces sounded less than fully fleshed-out interpretively — in particular the three Hungarian Dances, in which the sharp alternations of tempo and mood were missing.

It was the second movement of Brahms’ sonata in which Perlman’s involvement in the music was most keenly evidenced. The violinist managed to link the alternating Vivace and Andante sections in a seamless, somewhat melancholy mood, binding the pizzicato into the same line as Brahms’ singing legato. Perlman’s playing was most expressive here, coloring each note in the expansive melody, taking care to change notes with intention, sometimes incisively, other times with portamento.

If the Brahms showed Perlman at his expressive best, Saint-Saens Violin Sonata No. 1 after intermission, was virtuosic playing par excellence. Here, de Silva seemed finally to hit his stride as well and the two men did full justice to the Adagio and breezed with ease through the fiendish virtuosic sections of the finale.

After the Saint-Saens,  the violinist’s standard encore section seemed at times more devoted to personality than music. Perlman talked and joked with the receptive audience, which gave consistent ovations to each selection. His choice of six pieces were short, mostly virtuosic, and, for some, familiar (one poached from the well-known Suzuki Method’s collection). These baubles would have disappointed listeners expecting more musical weight, but the Celebrity Series audience appeared well satisfied.

Angelo Mao is a graduate student at Harvard, studying bioengineering.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Perlman brings a relaxed, parlor-like informality to Celebrity Series recital”

  1. Posted Nov 21, 2011 at 3:38 am by Christina

    Sounds like it was an enjoyable concert in a rather polished, viennese sort of way – familiar pieces & flirting with the audience. Nice, if you’re in the mood for that kind of thing.

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