Serenade for strings, Op.48
Capriccio Italien, Op.45
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
London Philharmonic Orchestra
LPO/Perlman 23 October
Wednesday, October 23, 2002 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
With two of Tchaikovskys masterworks on the programme together with his delightful confection of Neapolitan tunes in the middle (although Capriccio might have made a better opener and allowed the strings to be a pivotal contrast), it was no surprise that the Hall was virtually full. Part of the appeal, of course, was Itzhak Perlman, now developing a conducting career and recently appointed Music Adviser to the St Louis Symphony.
Perlman certainly brings joy to his music-making and persuaded the LPO to be characterful, well-balanced and agreeable. Unfortunately this doesnt go far enough. Not surprisingly for a violin-playing conductor, the Serenade enjoyed considered sound warm and silky. Suave even, which proved an unfortunate makeover that did for the soul of the music. There was ardour but it was skin-deep. It took a while for the players to gel absolutely in the first movement. A shame that Perlman harried the Waltz and swiftly despatched the Elégie events came and went rather inconsequentially (so too in the symphonys second movement Canzone, shorn of nocturnal wistfulness at its close) and the Finale, while articulately paced, lacked earthy timbres. It sounded like a serenade but Tchaikovskys is rather more than that.
The Fourth Symphony was lightweight. One can applaud Perlman seeing the first movement whole through integrating the various episodes and finding an overall tempo that suited the super-structure. There was though little or no suggestion of the musics fate-domination, its darkness or neuroses: essential ingredients. Such easy listening may please those who leapt to their feet at the end but surely this was for Perlman the celebrity, something I imagine he would disown given he is obviously very serious about his second career.
The pizzicato Scherzo was careful rather than elfin, the Trio curiously dull and humourless; the Finale moved along happily enough but without the necessary purging of earlier troubles well, there hadnt been any! Perlman increased the pace at the end, to unbalancing effect, and although podium intervention was rare, when he did introduce a personal touch it almost invariably felt applied and sign-posted.
Perlmans niceness and what appears an equable temperament came into its own with the Italian Caprice. I appreciated his discretion with the barrack-square brass at the beginning: not brazen but tapered and well balanced. If only other conductors would show this sort of discrimination with the golden instruments. The cymbal player needed taming though we want the colour but not the bandstand. This was a delightful and invigorating performance, full of detail and life when the music suits Perlman there is a lot of pleasure to be had from his conducting.
Perlman conducts the LPO this Saturday, 26 October, at the RFH in Mozart, Bizet and Brahms.