Itzhak Perlman and Evgeny Kissin perform at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall (Photo credit: Armando L. Sanchez, Chicago Tribune)
Itzhak Perlman and Evgeny Kissin turn lights back on at Orchestra Hall
By Howard Reich
The Chicago Tribune
May 2, 2019
For more than seven weeks, Orchestra Hall has been dark and silent, the grand old auditorium stilled by the longest strike in Chicago Symphony Orchestra history.
But that difficult period ended last Saturday. And surely to everyone’s relief, the place reawakened Wednesday evening in glamorous fashion: Two of the most celebrated artists in classical music turned the lights back on.
How encouraging that the first event of the post-strike era would see Orchestra Hall packed to capacity, with a large contingent of stage seating. This is what normal ought to look like.
Violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Evgeny Kissin each could fill this hall alone. Together, they showed the sustained drawing power of classical music when performed by two of its leading practitioners.
What was remarkable about this performance, though, was that neither Perlman nor Kissin offered a star turn. Each declined to project his personality above, or at the expense of, the music. To the contrary, these musicians consistently deferred to each other and to the aesthetic purposes of the scores, their work conveying an air of intimacy not routinely achieved in a large and crowded hall.
The high point came toward the end, in Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 (or for Klavier and Violin, as some editions of the score call it). A landmark in the duo repertory, and a technically demanding one at that, the “Kreutzer” places considerable technical burdens on each musician, and still more on the two together.
Perlman and Kissin captured both the letter and the spirit of the piece, the curtain-raising adagio passage soon giving way to music of irrepressible vigor and forward drive. But from the outset of this muscular, extroverted first movement, Perlman and Kissin maintained an unmistakable sense of proportion, control and scale. This performance wasn’t about easily achieved bombast and grandeur; instead, it placed the music firmly in Beethoven’s era (albeit, of course, with a modern piano).
In this movement, and elsewhere, Kissin achieved the elusive feat of conveying Beethovenian energy and sharpness of attack without getting in Perlman’s way, sonically or rhythmically. Perlman gave listeners the long, singing lines for which he’s famous, but also the gritty, gravelly staccato notes certain portions of the score require.
It was a pleasure to behold the two musicians exchanging phrases and thoughts in the middle movement, Kissin’s arietta-like right-hand lines echoing Perlman’s phrases. Not surprisingly, the two virtuosos took the presto finale at quite a clip. But here, too, their precision, clarity and poise spoke to higher musical purposes than mere excitement and noise.
Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100, also holds an important position in the repertory, and here listeners heard still more of Perlman’s silken tone and soaring lyricism. The second movement proved the centerpiece of this reading, Perlman’s ardent expressiveness underscored by Kissin’s impeccably articulated accompaniment. This is what superior duet playing is all about.
There was much to savor and remember in this evening. For encores, the duo played Leopold Auer’s arrangement of Lensky’s aria “Kuda, kuda, kuda vi udalilis” from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of Danse Espagnole No. 1 from De Falla’s “La vida breve.” No living violinist plays Kreisler’s arrangements more persuasively than Perlman, and he again proved that point.
For the full review, click here.