On Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Symphony Hall, legendary virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Rohan de Silva performed a recital of music by Beethoven, Franck, Ravel and a handful of small encore pieces to a full house audience (with people of all ages). The recital was presented by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Perlman turned 70 years old on August 31. Over that lifespan, after being rocketed into public attention at age 13 with a national television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Israeli-American violinist, conductor and pedagogue has become nearly synonymous with violin playing itself.
In January, Perlman departed his longtime management of nearly three decades, IMG Artists, to join the roster of a newly formed boutique management agency, Primo Artists, founded by his agent Charlotte Lee, an industry veteran and former IMG senior vice president. Perlman made a similar move in 1986 when he left his longtime management at ICM Artists for then-upstart IMG.
Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Rohan de Silva has become Perlman’s regular collaborative pianist. He has also worked with other top-shelf violinists, including Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham and Midori. In 1990 he won a Best Accompanist special prize at the ninth International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and has served on the faculty of The Juilliard School since 1991.
Perlman and de Silva opened with Beethoven’s Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin No. 3, the third of the composer’s Opus 12 group. Mark well the title. While the first movement, Allegro con spirito, keeps both instruments incessantly animated, the greater prominence and technical challenge lies with the piano. More in the foreground, de Silva’s taut and clean playing did not overwhelm Perlman. In the serene Adagio con molt’espressione that followed, Perlman’s violin sang its long lyrical lines over a softly susurrant piano part, then the two instruments traded roles. The sonata ended with sunny Allegro molto finale.
César Franck’s sole Violin Sonata is an essential part of the repertoire. It was composed as a wedding gift for the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. In the first movement, the reflective theme which underpins the entire sonata is introduced by the violin, and Perlman’s tone elicited a genuine tenderness.
The piano part is substantial and it is easy for the pianist to take over but, as in the Beethoven, de Silva did not overwhelm even while he made his collaborative mark, especially in the turbulent Allegro second movement, with Perlman’s violin soaring above the tempest. After the recitative-like third movement, the work concluded with a triumphant finale.
Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2, composed in the mid-1920s, is unlike his earlier music as it was inspired by American jazz and blues. No surprise, as W.C. Handy’s band brought the St. Louis blues style to Paris during the same years in which Ravel composed the sonata. In addition, Ravel picked up influences from Satie and Stravinsky in his uses of bitonality and biting harmonies.
As such, it’s a less conventional, free-spirited work. Perlman seemed to especially enjoy the central “American blues” movement in which his violin is called upon pizzicato to emulate a banjo. (Ironically, the day before this recital, in a nationally rebroadcast segment of NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me! from 2014, Perlman, as quizzed guest, was briefly teased by the panel as to whether he also played banjo.)
But Symphony Hall, with its unusually large stage, is not the ideal venue for chamber music. While the identifiable Perlman sound came through, there seemed a lack of definition overall. We should have heard more “pop” in some of Perlman’s spectacular bowing, as in the final movement of the Ravel sonata.
What followed these three mainstays of violin repertoire was reminiscent of an informal Sunday afternoon salon at a friend’s house, as Perlman considered, then selected, an encore he wanted to play from a folder. They played the selection, then he picked another.
A pair of transcriptions by Fritz Kreisler opened what was a good handful of encores: “Sarabande and Allegretto” by Arcangelo Corelli and the “Larghetto” from the Sonata in F major by Carl Maria von Weber. Then came the Jascha Heifetz transcription “March” from “The Love for Three Oranges” by Sergei Prokofiev.
There was an audible sigh of approval from the audience when Perlman announced he would play the “Theme from Schindler’s List” by John Williams. The fast-laced “Hungarian Dance No. 1” by Johannes Brahms, transcribed Joseph Joachim, closed the set with appropriate spunky energy.