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Perlman at the Barbican – A review

Mr.R’s review of the Perlman recital at the Barbican.

Itzhak Perlman, violin
Bruno Canino, piano

Schubert: Rondo brilliant in B minor
Beethoven: ‘Spring’ Sonata

Richard Strauss: Sonata in E flat major
Encore pieces (at least 5 or 6 of them)

We were privileged to hear Itzhak Perlman play yesterday.

The Schubert was exquisitely played. I have heard it played before, but Perlman made it his own. It always amazes me to watch Perlman play. He uses no shoulder-rest, and it always seems to me that his violin is a little too small for his frame, and that his fingers seem so pudgy that you almost expect less-than perfect intonation as a result, but far from it. He makes the playing seem so effortless, so easy, so relaxed. His choice of bowing seems so natural, “just right” for the piece he is playing, there seems nothing contrived about it. Reams have been written about the Perlman tone, and we got it all yesterday.

Canino is an excellent accompanist, caressing every minute detail of the score. His hands flew all over the keys, and every so often his left leg would flail about as he emphasised a musical point.

The Spring Sonata is a standard in the violin sonata repertoire, and was played again in Perlman’s inimitable style, chamber music at its best, as the opening theme, and then the second subject, was passed back & forth from violin to piano. The Adagio was dreamy, the Scherzo was witty and brief, and the Rondo was another charming, polite, sometimes animated dialogue between the two instruments.

After the interval, we had the Richard Strauss sonata. I have not heard this played so often, but it is a delightful piece. it is unmistakably Straussian, and I thought I could detect little hints of his tone poems in the dramatic opening, played with the verve & panache that it demanded. The second movement smacked a little of Rosenkavalier, while the last movement sounded heroic, almost worthy of Heldenleben. It is a tragedy that Strauss did not write more chamber music. Opera’s gain has indeed been a relative loss to chamber music.

We were then treated to a succession of encore pieces. the page turner carried a whole stack of works that Perlman flipped through, as he decided what to play for us, and his asides with his witty puns and mischievous anecdotes went down very well with the audience. For instance, he played Tchaikovsky’s Song without Words (Chanson sans paroles), and introduced the piece by telling us it was dedicated by the composer to a friend who was imprisoned for a very long time, for a minor misdemeanour. (“sans paroles”. Get it?)

He also played Apres un Reve (Debussy), and some works that I had not heard before, by composers that I had not heard about before, but were nevertheless perfect encore pieces with the right mix of lyricism and virtuosity, and length.

A great concert, one had been looking forward to for a long time, and it met every expectation.


One comment on “Perlman at the Barbican – A review

  1. I love listening to Itzhak Perlman!

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