Perlman’s “incredibly deft touch” with the Philadelphia Orch

Perlman’s “incredibly deft touch” with the Philadelphia Orch

Itzhak Perlman takes a bow with the Philadelphia Orchestra musicians at their March 15, 2017 performance (Photo credit: Aileen Rimando Jackson)

Review: Itzhak Perlman trades one Stradivarius for another
The Philadelphia Inquirer
by David Patrick Stearns
March 17, 2017

There was a time when audiences would be disappointed that Itzhak Perlman played only one short concerto — less than a third of the program — with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

But the Bach Violin Concerto No. 1 was just enough on Wednesday for the violinist/conductor, now in his early 70s, in a program filled out by Mozart and Dvorák symphonies — to the delight of an audience that seems happy with whatever he has to offer. Perlman’s tone quality had a dimension of sound that I haven’t heard from him in years. He was also immersed in the achingly expressive slow movement with a degree of engagement that has been fleeting of late.

A less-welcome tendency in the Bach concerto bled over into Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 (“Haffner”): Tempos that were already just a hair ahead of being sluggish felt even slower at the end of movement. At times, the Mozart work took on an emotional deliberation that suggested the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Clearly, Perlman — who conducts with a contained Ormandyesque beat — had worked on a series of attractively evolving textures in the symphony. Primary themes spoke with a highly inflected sense of purpose.

Though Perlman’s voice as a violinist was, in his prime, unmistakable, with sweetness balanced by an attractive huskiness, his personality as a conductor is less certain, which in theory is a virtue as conductors are required to accommodate themselves to the voice of the composer. But the deliberation he brought to Mozart might have been more appropriate with the Dvorák Symphony No. 8.

I’m glad, though, that Perlman didn’t go that Germanic route with Dvorák, preferring a lean, clean version of the Philadelphia Orchestra sound, and tempos that, though not especially speedy, were sensibly moderate and appropriate to such a buoyant, dance-based piece. Perlman did give a Viennese lilt to the mysterious waltz music of the third movement, which was an incredibly deft touch. And the final movement had the kind of hard-charging manner that makes audiences cheer.

In putting down his violin and taking up the baton at this concert, Perlman was clearly trading one Stradivarius for another.

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