One of the most intriguing aspects of this recital from Itzhak Perlman to celebrate his seventieth birthday last August was the manner in which the violinist was able to make the relatively large Barbican Hall feel like the most intimate space imaginable. Although necessity may have demanded it, the fact that he played everything while seated on his scooter handed the evening an air of informality, while the stage was prevented from feeling cold and empty by having some audience members occupy it, with their presence also helping other spectators to feel involved.
The most important factor in making this concert feel so engaging, however, was the style of Perlman’s playing. In the first half it felt as if he was playing only for himself in the best possible sense. No-one is going to demand higher standards from Perlman than Perlman, and as the audience witnessed him focusing they were drawn into listening ever more attentively rather than left feeling detached.
The evening began with Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for Violin and Piano, arranged by Samuel Duskin. The Introduzione revealed Perlman’s trademark ability to convey warmth and fullness of tone while also capturing the intricacies of expression in every bow stroke. Perlman was, of course, only one half of the evening’s act as he was accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva. The extent to which the two have built up a long-term relationship came across throughout the concert in the blend and style of their sounds, and the rendering of the ‘consecutive’ key strike, bow stroke and pizzicato in the Serenata was brilliantly managed. Perlman also captured the ‘quick silver’ elements of the Tarantella, revealed beautiful tone in the Gavotta con due Varizioni, conveyed genuine intensity in the Scherzino, and emphasised the brooding nature of the sixth movement’s Minuetto before driving home the Finale.
The other piece in the first half of the concert was Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano. As the four movements alternated between fast and slow, it was difficult to imagine anyone penetrating the heart of the piece more deeply than Perlman. His playing seemed perfectly suited to capturing the cyclical nature of the thematic material through the masterly conveying of both continuity and variation and, by being so textured and intricate, it carried the dual airs of sensuality and sensitivity.
The second half started with a beautiful performance of Dvořák’s Sonatina Op. 100 and then the fun really began! The programme had stated that additional works would be announced from the stage and, although anyone with a modicum of knowledge of Perlman would have had an idea as to what was in store, this did not make what followed feel any less remarkable. Perlman proceeded to play eight short pieces, the vast majority of which also required the services of De Silva, that amounted to so much more than we might normally expect from a set of ‘encores’. Although each lasted just a few minutes, the diversity to be found across them revealed much about Perlman’s own style. While this may be detectable in everything that he plays, he always applies those elements of it that are appropriate to the piece in question, rather than making the work conform to his own approach.
As Perlman introduced each piece, we were exposed to his wit, easy conversation and slightly self-deprecating nature. In this way, we were treated to pieces by violinists Kreisler and Wieniawski, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev (an arrangement of the March from The Love for Three Oranges) and Fauré. Perlman had played John Williams’ Schindler’s List Theme for the original film and, although the music may be moving anyway, here he brought a depth of emotion to it that is never normally to be found in soundtracks. Most impressive of all, however, were the performances of Joachim’s transcription of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 1 for violin and piano and of Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins, both of which revealed feats of bowing that fully explain why Perlman is still revered to the extent that he is today.
Itzhak Perlman’s complete recordings with Warner are available as a box set.