Much as one might like to lament the commercialization of Itzhak Perlman, omnipresent star of stage, small screen and recordings, a name familiar even to those otherwise uninterested in "classical" music, the personable violinist confounds us time and again by refusing to become the prisoner of that commercialization.
Success has not spoiled him, as witness a new release (EMI/Angel DSB-8952, two standard discs) devoted to Brahms' three sonatas for violin and piano and four Hungarian Dances in which he is partnered in deserving fashion by Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Every Brahmsian invitation to wallow is resisted in favor of a warm, unexaggerated expressivity. Brahms by Perlman and Ashkenazy is sweetness with an underpinning of steel. But why, one must ask, is this rare combination of lovely, accessible music, star power and interpretive acumen considered less worthy of issuance in compact disc format than, say, the Mutter-Ozawa "Symphonie Espagnole" (see below)? The three sonatas would make a sure-fire single CD.
The honesty of the Perlman interpretive persona is underscored by a pair of releases from a young Russian named Vadim Brodsky, whose principal vehicles are the violin concertos of Tchaikovsky (Musicmasters CD 60084Y) and Sibelius (Musicmasters CD 60089Z).
Whereas Perlman never fails to illuminate what he is playing, Brodsky seems less concerned with Tchaikovsky and Sibelius than with calling attention to his dazzling technique and sumptuously vibrating tone by playing fast and loose with the composers' dynamics, rhythms and tempos.
The gifted Brodsky is in need of strong direction, at the very least from a tough-minded recording producer and from less lenient conductors than the two ciphers who here lead the Polish Radio Orchestra.
The young Russian emigre Mischa Lefkowitz--a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic--makes a stunning recording debut with the grandly soulful 1938 Violin Concerto of Ernest Bloch (Laurel LR-134). Paul Freeman expertly conducts the London Philharmonic in this latest in a valuable series of Bloch revivals from a little Los Angeles-based company that consistently thinks big.
The theatrical alternation of cantilena and ejaculatory outbursts in this music finds an intelligent, highly persuasive executant in the intense Lefkowitz, who is equipped with a strong, pure tone that retains its solidity at both range extremes of the solo part and whose rhythmic grasp is unassailable.
In addition to the concerto, the program includes two shorter, contrasting showpieces: Prokofiev's spare, powerful Sonata for solo violin and the splashy Introduction and Tarantella of Sarasate.
With a combination of taste, skill and a well-placed friend (Herbert von Karajan) the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter has ascended to the ranks of the world's elite in only half a dozen years.
It is to infinite credit of the superbly talented Mutter that she, with the assistance of Seiji Ozawa and the French National Orchestra, can hold our attention even with such spavined warhorses as Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole" and Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" (Angel DS-38191; compact disc CDC-47318) and do so without the excesses of vibrato and portamento that are in some quarters considered built-in components of the scores.
The Belgian Arthur Grumiaux is a connoisseur's violinist who, in his 40 years before the public, has become identified chiefly with the music of Mozart, including a memorable series of late 1950s live performances and recordings with pianist Clara Haskil.
Grumiaux returns now to the Mozart sonatas--no fewer than 15 of those endlessly inventive and beguiling works--in partnership with the Austrian pianist Walter Klien (Philips 412 141, five standard discs or four compact discs).
Klien and Grumiaux, in their cool, clean-limbed interpretations, eschew both 18th-Century stylistic practices and Romantic indulgence. They state with proficiency and affection the case for this body of music as the qualitative equal of any ever written for this combination of instruments.
Robert Mann, in a rare outing without his fellows of the Juilliard String Quartet, teams with the excellent pianist Yefim Bronfman in gloriously spirited and stylish readings (replete with appoggiaturas) of half a dozen of the same Mozart sonatas (two Musicmasters CDs, 60077T and 60078L, available separately).
Mann's occasionally wiry, but by no means unappealing, tone and Bronfman's bounding energy lend these performances a dramatic edge lacking in the elegant, smaller-scaled work of Klien and Grumiaux.
Uto Ughi is a 40-year-old Italian violinist of commanding presence and skill, little known in this country but steadily building a reputation with a series of exceptional recordings, the latest (Erato/RCA compact disc ECD 88096) devoted to three of the once-fashionable concertos of the late-Baroque composer Giuseppe Tartini.
Ughi, with the sympathetic collaboration of I Solisti Veneti under Claudio Scimone, plays them with the mellowest of tones and a supersuave legato which, while having little relevance to the period in which the music was composed, is decidedly enhancing of the slender thematic content of these concertos.