Boston Celebrity Series
Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007
Last weekend, I saw Itzhak Perlman, the Israeli-American violinist and conductor, perform live. It was the first time I’d seen him live, although I grew up listening to recordings of his playing, and I was not disappointed. The concert, part of the Boston Celebrity Series, had Symphony Hall packed with people eager to see a living legend of classical music.
After the lights dimmed, Perlman promptly appeared on the stage. Stricken with polio at age four, he had to walk across the stage to his seat with the aid of crutches while the pianist, Rohan de Silva, carried his violin. The situation had a slightly poignant effect on the audience, but no matter. After some expert plucking of the strings to check for pitch, Perlman began filling the concert hall with his trademark lush, generous tone.
The program began with Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in E Major for violin and piano, a piece, quite honestly, that I had not heard before. The opening movement, a slow and rich Adagio, indicated to the audience that a master had arrived. Perlman played it simply, without the romanticism that characterizes (or tarnishes) much of Bach these days. Instead, he reminded me of a grandfather singing his observations in a take what you will manner. An Allegro, another Adagio, and another Allegro followed in that order. The second Adagio had a similar quality to the first while the fast movements rang with a joviality that made me want to dance.
Next was Strauss’s E-flat Major Sonata, a piece full of bipolar passions. That Perlman’s intonation was suspect in the higher registers of the violin did not affect his ability to pull my heartstrings. Other minor flaws occurred, such as blurred passages, but Perlman nonetheless pulled the piece off more convincingly compared to numerous versions I have heard.
After intermission, I was still somewhat emotionally exhausted from the Strauss, so I was reluctant to sit down for another emotional journey. Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, however, was just perfect for my state of mind. Unlike the virtuosic and almost confrontational Strauss, this piece had a reflective and dreamy quality. Perlman sounded most comfortable in this piece, drawing the audience into Schumann’s mind, which, although often tormented, must have contained unimaginable beauty.
The final portion of the concert consisted of Perlman announcing a series of short encore pieces. One would imagine these pieces, mostly written or transcribed by Fritz Kreisler, one of the pillars of virtuosic violin playing in the twentieth century, to be played for entertainment in a drawing room. Yet, through these pieces, Perlman conjured an intimate air that pervaded the grand hall. Hardly any of these pieces are performed in concert these days, let alone in Symphony Hall, but they reminded me of why Perlman has captivated me since childhood — that is, he lacks pretension and is dedicated to play the violin for the sake of good tunes.