Itzhak Perlman is beloved. While making his way across the stage to his chair Thursday night at the Hollywood Bowl, an admiring audience of nearly 10,000 greeted him on a humid evening with a prolonged standing ovation. This before playing a note of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with conductor Bramwell Tovey and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in its concluding concert of the summer classical season.
Tovey referred to him in his opening remarks as "the iconic Itzhak Perlman." A few years ago, the violinist told me people advised him against attempting a career as a traveling virtuoso, because his crutches — he contracted polio at age 4 — would make it impossible. The effect that the 67-year-old Perlman's lifelong perseverance has on audiences is unmistakable.
In the same interview, Perlman also acknowledged he practiced only "as needed," so it is not surprising he is no longer an awe-inspiring virtuoso. His passagework is occasionally approximated rather than crisply articulated, and his tone is less burnished and not as focused as it once was. That said, his rendition of Tchaikovsky's concerto remained impressive — muscular, keenly phrased and propelled by a still-reliable rhythmic drive. Tovey and the Philharmonic sustained a clear-textured, if at times careful, and well-balanced approach.
The program began with spirited accounts of the Tenth, Fourth and Fifth of Brahms' Hungarian Dances. Tovey brought smiles to the audience with the fifth one, also a favorite of Gustavo Dudamel's, and hilariously used by Chaplin to score the barbershop scene in "The Great Dictator."
After intermission, Tovey led the orchestra in a buoyant rendition of Dvorák's sunny Symphony No. 8, lingering in the jubilant finale, which made the rush to the finish all the more thrilling.
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