Itzhak Perlman

Sonata for Piano and Violin in D, Op.12/1
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor
Siciliane and Rigaudon
Zaritsky (?)
Mazurka, Op.26
Chant sans paroles
The Little White Donkey (trans. Heifetz)
Morning Serenade (trans. Heifetz)
Caprice in A minor

Itzhak Perlman (violin)
Bruno Canino (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 27 October, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

“Itzhak Perlman violin, with Bruno Canino piano” said the ticket, neatly encapsulating their unequal relationship. Was this a celebrity evening, an audience with Perlman, a violin recital (with piano accompaniment), a love-in for a much-respected artist or a slice of knockabout comedy … a Victor Borge-like Perlman introduced one of the pieces thus: “This was written by Tchaikovsky in memory of a dear friend who committed a minor crime and was sent to jail … for ever. It is called Chant sans paroles”. The answer is that it was something of all the above.

The evening opened with a brusque, rather pressured performance of Beethoven’s first violin sonata, actually designated by Beethoven as being for piano and violin, and is a substantial, discursive piece. However, its scale is not that of the altogether-later ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata. Perlman played it for all it was worth, projecting with maximum vehemence but somehow missing the work’s beating heart in the second movement Andante con moto variations which was certainly con moto but hardly con amore.

Much better was the Franck sonata, the two middle movements, the impassioned Allegro (which lived dangerously) and the Recitative-Fantasia, being particularly successful. Canino is a fine accompanist but therein lay the rub. This is music that calls for a much more equal partnership between piano and violin than here, one where the pianist needs to be as assertive as the violinist if the work is to ignite fully. On this occasion it took off only fitfully, Canino’s lack of weight of tone crucially undermining the work’s apotheosis, and although Perlman’s actual sound – rich and glowing – is ideally suited to this music, the performance needed a shot of adrenaline in the piano part. It felt imprisoned by the barlines and lacking in that tidal surge which makes the very best performances so riveting.

After the interval, the elusive, interior world of Debussy’s Sonata was a problematic choice with which to conclude the formal part of the programme, especially in so large a hall. Canino’s crisp, under-pedalled accompaniment and Perlman’s range of tone-colour should have worked well in this music. However it was played as if it were any late-romantic sonata and failed to catch its tormented volatility or enter into its unique quicksilver soundworld. At some moments it sounded like Barber, at others like Prokofiev, but seldom like Debussy. The lack of atmosphere was not helped by a notably inattentive audience that lost no opportunity to clear throats and even threatened to clap in the pregnant pauses just before the sonata’s end. One suspects it was quieter at Battersea Dogs’ Home.

Finally, the six short show-stoppers listed above, introduced by Perlman with a sly, deadpan wit. If he ever he lays down his bow and baton, he could earn a living as a comic, such is his sense of timing and working an audience. The two Heifetz transcriptions of Ibert and Fauré were particularly successful but all six morceaux were a delight, relics of a less politically-correct age when it was the norm to relish and take delight in extravagant confections. The evening ended with a particularly vertiginous performance of Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins by way of an encore.

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