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22.2.05

Itzhak Perlman at Strathmore

This weekend I thought I'd get my violinist fix, and no 18 hours after seeing Hilary Hahn I was back in the Strathmore Hall to hear Itzhak Perlman in the first recital at that venue.

If I go to a concert, by the way, I do not want to hear a slew of inane speeches: Neale Perl (President of WPAS) bored me out of my mind with his list of every half-important donor and official that may or may not have been in the audience. Before him, Douglas M. Duncan, the Montgomery County Executive, tested my patience. Fortunately, the talking came to an end after what seemed like ten minutes, and Mr. Perlman walked out on stage with the help of his crutches and leg-braces. When he picks up the violin though, notions of frailty or restriction dissipate at once. I mention this, because in many ways this transformation is similar to the experience of seeing Thomas Quasthoff come on stage and then fill an entire opera house with his booming sound.

In Mozart's E minor violin sonata (KV 304), Messrs. Perlman and Rohan DeSilva performed amiably together, and especially DeSilva's confident playing was appealing as he felt no need for dynamic and volume limitations while playing next to his far more famous colleague.


The intro to Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata exposed a weakness in Perlman's playing that reinforced suspicions still lingering from the Mozart. Stability, the tightness of the vibrato and intonation were—under pressure, at least—less than we are used from the maestro. The piano playing continued to be faultless, even in the second movement's Andante con Variazioni, where the lengths can sometimes get to the accompanist. Perlman's performance was still impressive on many levels but posed the question of whether there is simply an unavoidable expiration date on violinists (or singers, for that matter), after which it becomes very difficult to make up with experience for lack of ease of technical execution and, simply, youth.

Meanwhile, coughing and cell phone discipline are not quite where they ought to be yet at Strathmore. Like on Saturday, I felt like Hans Castorp between movements… everyone hacked away at once.

The "North Bethesda Premiere" (so Perlman's remark) of Episodes for Violin and Piano by Ellen Taaffe Zwillich met with considerable enthusiasm, though Perlman's humorous telling them of how "Episode" had been tailored to his taste certainly helped. The work is more than a cut above the Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, No. 1, that was Joan Tower's contribution the night before. While the 'lyrical episode' made me wonder at a few mute musical points, the 'rhythm episode' was a little marvel and delight that effectively showcased that Perlman's fingers still are fleet.

The two vignettes of Smetana's From the Homeland showed Perlman at his best, closing the program on a good note, topped only by the four encores: Kreisler "in the style of Pugnani," among other things, which led Perlman to observe that apparently "they were all dying for some piece of good old-fashioned Pugnani" back then. In his element with the encores, Perlman had the audience laugh, applaud, chuckle and then on their feet as one, a happy ending to a concert that may have forecast the near end of his performing career.


See also Joan Reinthaler, Intimate Perlman, Cavernous Strathmore (Washington Post, February 22).