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MUSIC REVIEW

Sonata for violin and kibitzer

Itzhak Perlman plays it straight, then turns entertainer in his first Disney Hall recital in three years.

January 22, 2008|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Itzhak Perlman has a lot on his plate these days besides playing the fiddle. Yet somewhere amid his media appearances, educational endeavors and conducting -- his latest post being the surprising one of artistic director of the Westchester (N.Y.) Philharmonic, just beyond the glare of New York City -- he still finds the time and desire to perform good old-fashioned violin recitals.

In doing so, Perlman provides ample comfort food for his doting fans, who flocked to his first recital in Walt Disney Concert Hall since January 2005 on Sunday night (it was officially sold out).

The routine doesn't seem to have changed much over the decades -- three sonatas followed by the eagerly awaited cavalcade of "spontaneous" encores with comic commentary. Yet the sonatas that Perlman chose apparently are not in his vast discography, so he was exposing the faithful to some relatively new, if not exactly envelope-stretching, offerings. They were, in the following order: J.S. Bach's Sonata in E, BWV 1016; Richard Strauss' Sonata in E flat; and Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Violin and Piano.

There was a time when Perlman came as close to perfection -- technical and artistic -- as any violinist I've heard in live performance. These days, there are subtle signs that he may have stepped a bit back from that edge: an occasional unsteady attack, a somewhat thinner tone quality (one wonders whether Disney Hall's acoustics figured in the latter).

But as with most great performers, it didn't matter much, for Perlman's big virtues remain blessedly intact. Unlike many of today's younger hotshots, he doesn't force his tone; he plays with an ease that lets the lyrical character of the violin flow naturally. There was a sense of joy, supported by assertive phrasing and the snap of the rhythms, in his Bach.

He revved up the early Strauss sonata -- the direct precursor to "Don Juan" only two opus numbers later -- with classic Perlman opulence and sunny optimism, overcoming the earthbound, unobtrusive support of his pianist, Rohan De Silva. In the Poulenc -- which is yet another homage to the much-mourned Federico Garcia Lorca -- Perlman played elegantly but without dawdling, giving the piece's stark, unusual ending its due.

Then out came the usual humongous stack of scores, from which Perlman chose seven brief encores -- leading off with one of Kreisler's practical jokes in another composer's style (one Giovanni Battista Martini, a name that guaranteed a punch line) and concluding with the real Kreisler ("Tambourin Chinois"). Throughout the set, he dazzled, entertained, kidded and generally proved that he can still turn on the fireworks at will.

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