“The Perlman Sound” — Concerto Excerpts = MENDELSSOHN; BRAHMS; BEETHOVEN; TCHAIKOVSKY; KORNGOLD; SIBELIUS; BACH; MOZART; VIVALDI; Recital Pieces and Encores = BACH: Praeludio from Partita No. 3; BAZZINI: La Ronde des lutins; BEETHOVEN: Presto from Violin Sonata No. 9; BRAHMS: Un poco Presto from Violin Sonata No. 3 in d minor; DEBUSSY: En bateau; DVORAK: Larghetto from Op. 75; Slavonic Dance in e minor; ELGAR: Salut d’amour; FALLA: Spanish Dance No. 1; GERSHWIN: It ain’t necessarily so; GLUCK: Dance of the blessed spirits; JOPLIN: The Entertainer; KREISLER: Praeludium and Allegro; Liebesleid; Schoen Rosmarin; MASSENET: Elegie; Meditation; PAGANINI: Caprice in a minor; PREVIN: Who Reads Reviews?; RACHMANINOV: Vocalise; RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Flight of the Bumblebee; SAINT-SAENS: Introduction and Rondo capriccioso; SARASATE: Carmen Fantasy; Zigeunerweisen; Zapateado; SHOSTAKOVICH: 3 Violin Duets: Praeludium; STRAVINSKY: Serenata; WIENIAWSKI: Scherzo-tarantelle; TRAD.: A Yiddishe Mamme; KLEZMER: Basarabye – Martha Argerich/Daniel Barenboim/ Bruno Canino/ Samuel Sanders/ Andre Previn/Placido Domingo, tenor/ Jim Hall, guitar/ Israel Zohar, clarinet/ Red Mitchell, bass/Shelly Manne, drums/ Lawrence Foster/ Carlo Maria Giulini/ Bernard Haitink/ Jean Martinon/ Eugene Ormandy/ Jonathan Tunick/ Dov Seltzer/ Pinchas Zukerman, violin – Warner Classics 0825646081684 (3 CDs) 75:55, 78:52, 76;46 (8/28/15) ****:
Violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman (b. 1945) celebrates his seventieth birthday, so it comes as little surprise that record companies issue “the best of” and “highlights of a brilliant career” incarnations of his legacy. Perlman’s approach, as much as anyone’s, achieves the “Heifetz ideal” of miraculously accurate intonation and sweetness of tone. What more blatant homage to the Heifetz spiccato than Perlman’s whirlwind rendition of Bazzini’s Dance of the Goblins? In several respects, Perlman’s art may have outstripped that of his idol, given that virtuoso’s penchant for idiosyncratic bow pressure and shifting ensemble balances in his own favor. The present collation of recordings, 1977-1989, captures Perlman in his true comfort zone of concertos and outstanding recital and salon vehicles for his infectious, jubilant music-making. Disc One quite literally pays as much homage to Heifetz as to the composers, adding to the mix an overt sentiment in which the Heifetz sang froid prefers not to indulge.
While I ordinarily eschew the out-of-context “chestnuts” survey of an artist – excepting select moments in my radio tributes – the three discs demonstrate Perlman’s commitment to an essentially Romantic repertory, which occasionally extends itself back into the Baroque and forward into contemporary composition. The opening foray, the first movement of the Mendelssohn Concerto with Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, announces a master’s hand at combining lightning technique, lyricism, and refined drama. Carlo Maria Giulini and Perlman ring sparks in their much-heralded EMI inscription of the Brahms Concerto’s last movement. The G Major slow movement from the Beethoven Concerto with Barenboim does segue to the energetic last movement. Yehudi Menuhin always claimed that the Tchaikovsky Concerto “belonged” to Heifetz, and the Perlman collaboration from Philadelphia with Eugene Ormandy, despite its lushly efficient first movement, does not usurp the Heifetz record with Fritz Reiner. Again, the Perlman last movement – for polar bears – of the Sibelius Concerto lacks the dynamic sizzle of the Heifetz/Hendl interpretation. But the pleasant surprise resides in the Korngold Concerto’s Romance movement, which had been conceived with Heifetz in mind, the personification of Caruso and Paganini. Here, Previn and Perlman render a love song of deep intimacy, ripe with natural lyricism, without treacle.
The remaining two discs celebrate Perlman’s versatility in recital and salon works – a combination of the spirits of Heifetz and his own chief rival, Fritz Kreisler – some of which demonstrate unflinching bravura, as in his work with Lawrence Foster in the Sarasate Carmen Fantasy, my second-favorite rendition after that of Aaron Rosand. Foster and Perlman prove equally effective in a completely different mode, in the eternal Meditation from Massenet’s Thais. The late Samuel Sanders (1937-1999) adds his always-delicious sense of keyboard balances and colors to fourteen pieces as Perlman’s accompanist. Try their buoyant Kreisler arrangement of Falla’s Spanish Dance from La vida breve for pure synchronicity of style. They prove just as manic in their spirited Zapateado of Sarasate, as bristling as anything from Ruggiero Ricci. For their less raucous gypsy style, Dvorak’s tender e minor Slavonic Dance should melt a few hearts. If it’s the Heifetz devotee you seek in Perlman, then Gershwin’s song from Sportin’ Life, “It ain’t necessarily so,” has all the slides and pregnant pauses in an authentic blues-scat style. If it’s the Fritz Kreisler acolyte you desire, the Massenet Elegie with Domingo has all their passion Kreisler and McCormack brought to the music one hundred years ago. Andre Previn, already having collaborated before an orchestra, attends the keyboard in Joplin’s The Entertainer, stride for stride. Previn’s own capacity for honky-tonk cuts a mean rug – assisted by Perlman, Hall, Manne, and Mitchell – in a “hot five” version of Who Reads Reviews?
Having recently screened the film Music of the Heart, I could appreciate Perlman’s role as musical philanthropist, assisted in that movie by Arnold Steinhardt and Isaac Stern in their support of violin pedagogy. In that film, the Bach Double Violin Concerto is featured as the piece de resistance. Disc 2 opens with a pungent rendition of the Bach a minor Concerto’s first movement with Barenboim’s conducting. Perlman does double duty in two of the recordings, that of solo and conductor in the joyous Mozart G Major Concerto (Rondeau) and in Vivaldi’s Presto from his Summer Concerto. Too brief, the two excerpts from Bach’s solo violin works resonate with thrilling vibrancy. If the opportunity to hear Perlman perform with the demonic Martha Argerich in the final movement of the Kreutzer Sonata proves an insufficient motivation, then perhaps a seamless reading of the ubiquitous Saint-Saens Introduction et Rondo capriccioso with Jean Martinon will certify just how completely the Heifetz model found emulation and transcendence in Itzhak Perlman.
The Perlman tribute ends much we might recall the movie The Jazz Singer, courtesy of Al Jolson’s acknowledgement of his Jewish roots. Dov Seltzer leads the Israel Philharmonic with Perlman’s intoning A Yiddishe Mamme, and then Perlman combines virtually a gypsy-ethnic trend in a pulsating, torrid version – outstripping anything in Enescu – of Basarabye (Brave Old World), unvergessen by any standard!