Violinist Itzhak Perlman, in the course of the years, has become a veritable institution--but not necessarily an exclusively musical institution.
A Perlman recital nowadays is like a family holiday gathering. Everyone is relaxed and good-natured. Even the guest of honor wears a business suit. Lip service is paid to serious music, but no one takes it too seriously. Casual is maybe the best descriptive word.
Perlman's Royce Hall recital Tuesday night was faithful to established form. The family of well-wishers filled the hall and they were polite about the Isaac Stern type of program that listed three solemn sonatas. No one seemed to mind that the violinist did not appear at all eager to extend himself. In fact, he was quite casual about it; nothing was very polished, very warm, or very urgent. The pianist, Janet Guggenheim, operated on much the same principle--competent but not particularly involved.
Perlman had the glimmer of an interesting idea when he put the Sonata No. 12 by Pergolesi before the "Suite Italienne" by Stravinsky, one of the numerous arrangements the mileage-conscious composer made of excerpts from his ballet "Pulcinella."
Stravinsky professed that "Pulcinella" was inspired by music of the Italian composer, although now it is generally known that the music Stravinsky borrowed was not authentic Pergolesi.
The Sonata that Perlman revived to parallel Stravinsky was pleasant enough but not at all important. And the offhand manner in which he played the "Suite Italienne" did not make that sound very important either.
Perlman and Guggenheim were serious enough about Beethoven's Sonata in C minor, Opus 30, No. 2, but real care was lavished only on the slow movement.
Ravel's Sonata, likewise, did not come out any too jolly; it too was on the casual side.
The real show appeared to begin at encore time, when the page-turner came out carrying enough music for three recitals.
The audience exploded with expectation, but the wily violinist, like the good actor he is, postponed the moment of playing with joshing and kidding, which his listeners seemed to like as much as the music.
The final decision as to encores included an unfamiliar Sicilienne, an Introduction and Tarantella by Sarasate, a dubious piece that may or may not have been composed by Fritz Kreisler, and Bazzini's ancient "Dance of the Goblins." The audience went home happy.