intimate performer: Itzhak Perlman.
Song for You
By B.A. Nilsson
Theatre, Jan. 8
What may be most amazing about Itzhak Perlman’s performance
presence is that he’s able to convey to each member of the
audience—if I may speak for the 2700-some who filled Proctor’s
Theatre for a recital last week—a sense of living-room intimacy.
His sound doesn’t come across as unusually big; it doesn’t
seem overly intense. But it engages you in a conversation
more compelling than what you’d get from any recording.
The program was simple: sonatas by Bach, Beethoven and Poulenc,
but drawn from a neglected edge of the repertory. The Bach
sonata was not one of the more commonly performed solo works
but the sixth for violin and continuo, a piece written and
revised during the 1720s and existing in three forms. Its
usual configuration is a five-movement work that includes
a solo allegro for the keyboard.
Perlman and pianist Rohan DeSilva adopted a convincing middle
ground between purist Baroque technique and a full-out Romantic
approach. Perlman’s tone was lean but warm, true to the spirit
of Bach but light on ornamentation. In the hands of an accomplished
player like DeSilva, there’s no argument about the appropriateness
of the piano to a work like this one. Rooted in the style
of the trio sonata, it calls upon the pianist to do the work
By the time Beethoven got around to writing violin sonatas,
the partnership was beginning to level out. His Sonata No.
7 in C Minor was written in 1802, just before the Eroica
symphony, while the composer was bitterly wrestling with his
deafness. It opens forebodingly with a six-note motif that
would return, transmuted into F Major, as the glorious beginning
of the Symphony No. 8, but here it’s a fragment that sets
a mode that gives this work a fascinating texture. Although
in four standard movements, it’s already breaking out of the
Classical mode with the witty wrong-seeming turns typical
These contrasts may not be so apparent to contemporary ears,
but Perlman and DeSilva exaggerated nothing in their pursuit
of the integrity of the piece, which rewards all the attention
you can give to it. Like the Bach, it’s a work that’s more
often found in a “complete sonatas” recording than on the
concert stage, but the players proved its power in person.
More ear-taxing is Francis Poulenc’s single Sonata, but that’s
only because of the plangent surprises so typical of the composer’s
works. Written in 1943 and revised six years later, it was
dedicated to the short-lived virtuoso Ginette Neveu, whose
recordings reveal a keen sensitivity to this kind of work.
Not that Perlman had any problem realizing it fully. Like
Mozart’s sonatas, it’s really a series of opera arias, and
the performers sang them wonderfully. What sounds choppy and
discordant in the first movement is smoothed into a long,
lyrical line in the second; by the end of the piece, a Presto
that sounds like Mendelssohn with neuralgia, the startled
audience had been won over. Maybe we’ll get the Schoenberg
Sonata some day.
The rest of the concert was music and comedy. Perlman introduced
a series of short pieces with wicked puns, well- constructed
groaners I won’t attempt to repeat delivered with seasoned
assurance. And the pieces themselves tended toward the virtuosic,
showing off Perlman’s effortless ability to quickly negotiate
bow and fingerboard.
Aleksander Zarzycki’s Mazurka, Op. 26, was a popular finger
buster in the days of Maud Powell, so it was a treat to have
it exhumed. False harmonics and left-hand pizzicato were two
of the dazzling effects the piece demands. Tchaikovsky’s Chanson
sans paroles showed off the violinist’s sweet side, while
Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of Dvorák’s Slavonic Dance No.
1 was both lyrical and technique-demanding. The program finished—with
the audience on its feet—with Franz Ries’s Perpetuum mobile,
Op. 34 No. 5, another little-heard but lots-of-fun showstopper.
This is what live music is all about: contrasting, compelling,
and aimed, it seems, at you alone, while bringing all of the
audience together in a life-changing experience. I know I
went out of there different person.