LPO/Perlman – 23 October

Serenade for strings, Op.48
Capriccio Italien, Op.45
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Itzhak Perlman

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 23 October, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

With two of Tchaikovsky’s 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 doesn’t 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 symphony’s 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 Tchaikovsky’s 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 music’s 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 hadn’t 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.

Perlman’s 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.

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