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He’s a wow: Perlman.

Still the One

By B.A. Nilsson

Itzhak Perlman, violinist, and Rohan De Silva, pianist

Proctors, April 10

It’s hard to say that a perfor-mer is at the peak of his career until you see him start to falter, at which time the judgment becomes hindsight. So let’s just say that violinist Itzhak Perlman continues to perform as inspiringly as ever.

Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva last played Proctors in 2004, a concert I’ve reminisced about often enough to seem much more recent. And the program was similar insofar as it featured slightly lesser-known works in the violin-piano repertory.

Beginning with a sonata by Mozart (Sonata in A Major), which is variously numbered as 14, 15, 18 or 35 depending on whether you count the youthful sonatas and throw out the fragments and/or possibly spurious works. Over the course of writing those works (between 1763 and 1788), Mozart improved the role of the violin from accompanying instrument to full-fledged partner, so by the time he got to this work, a nice balance had been achieved.

The first and last movements, in sonata-allegro and rondo form, respectively, feature lively dialogues between the instruments, enhanced by the transparency of the performance. De Silva has a faultless technique that makes the cascades of runs and arpeggios sound easy; Perlman has a lyrical, focused tone that suits his repertory beautifully and reminds us that Mozart needs no historically informed performance techniques in order to sound effective. His music just needs excellent playing.

Characteristic of many a Mozart slow movement is an aria-like quality that sets the solo voice soaring, and—although it can be something of a cliché—this truly was the emotional heart of the piece.

A large portion of the very large crowd revealed its unfamiliarity with classical music customs by applauding between movements, and was charmingly encouraged by Perlman not to do so in the piece that followed, a sonata by Beethoven. There are compelling arguments to be made on both sides of the issue, and I find myself waffling—but my 13-year-old daughter decided that you should be able to applaud anything you want. I’ll leave it at that.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 was also part of Perlman’s 2004 Proctors program, and it’s a pleasure to hear it again. It’s a four-movement work with stormy outer movements, a theme-and variations slow movement that erupts into unexpected dramatics, and a quirky little scherzo that seems almost out of place until you realize that Beethoven’s sly, wry grin lies behind the entirety of the piece.

There’s so much emotional contrast built into the piece that, as an interpreter, you best serve the music by allowing your passions free reign without getting cartoony about it. As expected, with Perlman and De Silva at the controls, it became a thrilling event.

Antonin Dvorák intended his Sonatina in G Major to be a work his kids could play, hence the diminutive title. I’m thinking he also was a little cowed by what Brahms had come up with a decade or two earlier in his set of three violin sonatas. In any event, the work dates from 1893, written while the composer was in the United States, and sported the pentatonically-informed Native American influences also found in his “New World” symphony and “American” quartet, among other works.

It’s a classically four-movement work, thus balancing the Beethoven, so rich with melody that it showcased the performers’ lyric qualities. And Dvorák’s kids must have been pretty skillful: there were some challenging licks in the faster movement that Perlman and De Silva tossed off with ease.

Setting the stage for the series of shorter works that finished the concert. When a Perlman program promises that such works will be announced from the stage, prepare both for virtuoso playing and amusing continuity, as the violinist sets us up for what’s to come.

A Perpetuum Mobile by Franz Ries, for example, is that composer’s Op. 34 no. 5. “Which means that Ries wrote many other pieces,” Perlman explained. “But tonight I’m only going to give you one Ries piece.”

Then he clobbered his fiddle with some blinding bowing that well suited the promise of the title. Three of the short works were written or arranged by violinist Fritz Kreisler: “Melodie” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is so gentle and affecting that it’s an encore standard. The Caprice in A Minor by Wieniawski was written for two violins, and Kreisler turned one of those parts into a piano version (it’s another study in rapid-fire bowing); Kreisler’s own “Sicilienne and Rigaudon” was one of several works the violinist initially attributed to a string of near-forgotten composers, in this case, François Francoeur.

The performers certainly merited their standing ovation, but saved the most astonishing piece for the encore: Bazzini’s “Round of the Goblins,” legendarily difficult, throwing in technical challenges that would have made Paganini blush. It was a triumph.

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