Itzhak Perlman — Virtuoso Violinist (1978)

by | Jul 10, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Itzhak Perlman — Virtuoso Violinist (1978)

Studio: Allegro Films DVD A 08CN D
Video: 4:3 full screen; color and B&W
Audio: PCM Stereo and Dual Mono
No region encoding
Duration: 216 minutes
Rating: ****:

A film by the ever-active Christopher Nupen, who promotes the arts via the medium of television and DVD, this 30-year-old documentary and concert-recital video captures the art and personality of Israeli-born virtuoso Itzhak Perlman (b. 1945), who, besides having reached the height of powers and popularity, had served as “guide, teacher, and friend” to many, besides being a fine “spokesman for the disabled.” Besides the sheer array of musical luminaries who inhabit Perlman’s world, see can appreciate the devoted family man, the husband and father who will not accept engage or tours that extend beyond two weeks, because “I get so miserable away from my family.”

The video opens with Perlman before a master-class audience, exclaiming, “I know I played every note,” referring to his executing Paganini’s Caprice No. 5 and then hearing a blurred, echo-laden playback.  Through interviews, flashbacks, and reminiscences, we recall that Perlman first heard the violin (likely Heifetz) at age three-and-one-half, was playing by four, and then contracted polio, which according to the best authority, would discourage any kind of traveling, active career in music. “My parents’ outlook changed everything,” offers Perlman while driving his car through New York City. “They handled my polio condition, showing that you can make a ‘normal’ situation out of an ‘abnormal’ situation very easily by the attitude.” Nupen calls Perlman an example of the “triumph over adversity–for we know polio had a major effect on Perlman‘s personal and artistic direction.” It was at age 13, appearing on national television–the Ed Sullivan Show on CBS–that Perlman’s fame catapulted into world-class consciousness.

The program opens and closes with Bazzini’s Ronde des Lutins, so the video is a kind of goblins’ dance in the round to an extraordinary musical virtuoso. “I have especially large hands,” proffers Perlman, “so people advised me to take up the cello or the double-bass, hardly the violin.” Perlman obviously made the adjustment: later in the video we see his mentoring two now-famous colleagues, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (in Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy) and Chou Liang-Lin (in Vieuxtemps’ Fifth Concerto), adding humor and quick examples spontaneously. “Spontaneity is the name of the game,” Perlman gibes to Ashkenazy during one of their Beethoven inscriptions. There are sudden cuts to Perlman’s fly-fishing at Aspen, which, by way of a recommendation of his teacher Dorothy DeLay, became a “permanent summer residence for the Perlmans.” While Itzhak prepares Vivaldi’s The Seasons with the Aspen Chamber Orchestra, his wife, Toby, comments that “he is a typical man–not putting away his dirty clothes, expecting supper to appear miraculously, assuming the house can run itself,” as she picks up laundry and herds their three children around their New York apartment. We see Perlman in the latter part of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen with Lawrence Foster conducting, the slow, melancholy section suddenly bursting forth in a wild, spark-encrusted dance. At a BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert, Perlman plays the Prelude from the E Major Bach Partita, a smooth, seamless realization. Later in the video, we have this complete Partita as well as the D Minor, noted for the splendid Chaconne, which Perlman devours in one gulp.

One has to be selective in reviewing the various episodes, since each warrants its own praise. Perlman drives us to the old Juilliard on 120th Street in Manhattan, where he shows us the side-door he entered, which had fewer steps than the main entrance.  Wife Toby laments that she fell in love with Itzhak when she first heard him play Ravel‘s Tzigane at a music camp; but he was only just becoming interested in girls at eighteen, so she had to wait a year before he outgrew his current girlfriends. We see Perlman work with Vladimir Ashkenazy on the Beethoven Op. 96 Sonata; and when they argue, each admits that it has been a positive, growth experience. We see the Ashkenazy-Harrell-Perlman Trio perform Beethoven’s liquid Op. 70, No. 2. Pinchas Zukerman and Perlman clown and frown during Wieniawski’s A Minor Caprice. Clowning once more with Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta. Bruno Canino’s long fingers dominate a shot of his accompanying Perlman in a twitchy ragtime by Scott Joplin in Germany. Perlman quips on his relationship to an audience: “I like the audience and performing. It’s a give-and-take situation that demands rapport with them. To take control and direct their attention, that is key.” Then Perlman remembers director Nupen’s wonderful 1969 film of the Trout Quintet, with, among others, cellist Jacqueline Du Pre. [Other Nupen films of Du Pre.]

We have any number of images of the active, passionate Jacqueline Du Pre, and Perlman at first utters one epithet, “enthusiastic,” to compress her entire personality. “What she played, that was her,” Perlman recalls. “With some artists, the sound they make and the kind of person each is can be quite different.” Perlman is likely thinking: Heifetz. Then, he conjures another adjective to describe Du Pre, “abandon.” He recalls her fatal diagnosis of MS: “Even when she physically could not execute, she played to her inner demands; maybe she played 90 percent, maybe only 40 percent of the notes–it didn’t matter; she could not accept less from herself. It might have been ten percent; whatever it was, it was all Jackie.” As Pinchas Zukerman, “Well, he is Pinky, and he is a riot, a gas.”  The film cuts back to the Bazzini Ronde, and we’ve come full circle, while Perlman has moved on.

— Gary Lemco

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