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Itzhak Perlman: A Star Flickering, Not Shining

Itzhak Perlman & Pinchas ZukermanHighly anticipated, sold out with filled seats spilling over onto the stage, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman showed up at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall for their WPAS-presented duo-recital. They opened with Bach’s (or is it?) Sonata for Two Violins and Keyboard in G, BWV 1037. Thick textures made Bach appear as Barber for a while, and the mediocre, uninspired pianism of accompanist Rohan De Silva (he plunked down one plump chord after another, never developed a line, failed to do anything imaginative to the basic instructions Bach gives in the score) didn’t help much, either. Still, this apocryphal work is lovely enough a piece for two violins that need to come up with repertoire.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Perlman and Zukerman: Double the Pleasure (Washington Post, April 26)

Jeremy Eichler, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman at Avery Fisher: The Stars, the Strings, the Bravos (New York Times, April 27)
If here, or at other points in this recital, it seemed that Itzhak Perlman might be resting on his laurels (but what laurels they are!), with a technique that is deteriorating, a widening vibrato, declining accuracy, that impression was blown away by seven impromptu Bartók pieces from the 44 Duos for Two Violins that he and Zukerman threw into the mix. They were announced with that dry, warm humor that can instantly charm a crowd of 2,500. Starting with the Teasing Song (“because maybe we’ll play more after that, maybe we won’t…”), Perlman then introduced with “This is one of my favorites” the Limping Dance, followed by Sorrow, Prelude & Canon (great precision, wonderful folksy touch in the Canon combined with an irresistible beat), then “one of Bartók’s ‘Greatest Hits’,” the Serbian Dance, the Arabian Dance, and Ardelina (?)

More than welcome diversion, it was during these short pieces that Perlman was at his very best; much better than in the routine Mozart Duo for Violin and Viola, K. 423. It is nice, as anything by Mozart, but doesn’t strike as particularly inspired music; the violist Mozart may have given the two instruments equal material, but none of it of particularly interesting nature. Admittedly a random association, the Adagio had me think of freshly neutered dogs (and how little fun they must have).

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Bartók / Shostakovich / Prokofiev, 44 Duos / Violin Duets / Sonata for 2 Violins, Zukerman/Perlman/Sanders

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W. A. Mozart, J. M. Leclair, Violin Duos, Zukerman/Perlman
After the intermission, Jean-Marie Leclair’s 1730 Sonata in F Major for Two Violins was more pleasing: its distinctly Four Seasons-like opening Allegro assai was counterpoint-heavy yet possessed a light gait; it ended with a very lovely Gigue. Concluding was what looked like the slightest piece on the program but was most pleasing among the ‘scheduled’ works, perhaps only because it was played better than the rest. The Suite in G Minor for Two Violins and Piano by Moritz Moszkowski (a minor minor composer) is as lovely a piece of music as one can expect for the less-than-bulging repertoire for two violins. It’s adaptable, too: a few weeks ago I heard it scored for bassoon and oboe. The second movement (Allegro moderato) rekindled kind memories of the woodwind (per)version. Perlman found very gentle moments, the finale (Molto vivace) was ebullient and a pleasing affair to everyone in the audience. Even Mr. De Silva woke up a little and played with some life.

Throughout the concert (as for the last 30 years) Zukerman may have been playing second fiddle, but being (in) Perlman’s shadow as he was, his playing had a sharper outline than the image casting it. Not with the same big tone, his sound is clearer, leaner, more accurate. It hurts a little to hear someone – Perlman – known foremost for a dazzling technique to play at a lesser level than their reputation deserves; if he didn’t please broad audiences so much with what he does, perhaps he might like to take more time per recital and play them in smaller venues. That he can play phenomenally well, still, was proven (if ironically) in the Bartók and the encores, six duets for violin and piano by Shostakovich (“…everyone is doing Shostakovich, why should we… …be the exception”). Jewels that made the concert-going experience well worth it.