Itzhak Perlman is considered one of the great violinists of this or any era, and his recital before a packed house at Symphony Hall as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston last Sunday, March 7 reminded us exactly why. The program was a typical “violin recital,” but there was nothing typical or mundane about the playing of Perlman and his equally brilliant pianist Rohan de Silva. It was a magnificent afternoon of music making.
The duo opened with Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in F major, K. 376. Mozart’s violin sonatas, which come out of the 18th-century tradition of “keyboard sonatas with violin accompaniment,” were conceived as small-scale works, and they may be just a bit too small for Perlman’s big style of playing. This style worked to perfection, however, with Franck’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, M. 8, a great romantic warhorse that closed the first half of the program. Franck had composed this work in 1886 as a wedding present for another legendary violinist, the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, who actually played it on his wedding day. (There are no reports on what Ysaÿe’s bride-to-be was doing at the time, or what she thought about this part of the marriage ceremony.) Perlman played the sonata with all the intensity of an excited groom, and a romantic-era one at that. There were some delicious 19th-century slides in the second movement, and the superb communication and ensemble between the violinist and his pianist de Silva enabled both to indulge in a rhythmic freedom and expressive playing that made this performance of the Franck as good as it gets.
The second half of the program (the printed one, that is) was devoted to Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (1917), the third in a planned series of Six Sonates pour divers instruments. Debussy had already published the first for cello and piano, and the second (flute, viola and harp), but his fourth would have been the most exciting for this writer, since it was to be scored for oboe, horn and harpsichord! Alas, Debussy never wrote this work or any other; he died of cancer in 1918, making the violin sonata his final composition. Perlman gave a virtuoso performance of the Sonata, but like in the Mozart, he was sometimes too rough for this elegant French confection. For example, some passages in the first movement were taken at such a fast tempo that much detail got lost and the intonation suffered.
Quibbles aside, this was a masterful performance given by two masters of their instruments, both perfectly attuned to each other. It also set the stage for the “second” concert of this concert—a generous helping of seven encores that included some of the favorite bon-bons of the violin repertoire, such as Fritz Kreisler’s “Chanson Louis XIII in the Style of Couperin,” Joseph Joachim’s arrangement of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 2” and the theme from John Williams’ “Schindler’s List.” Perlman enjoyed announcing these encores from the stage and obviously enjoyed playing them as well. His listeners certainly enjoyed hearing them, and left Symphony Hall satisfied and smiling.