The category of violinists that includes players of the caliber of 71 year old Israeli-American Itzhak Perlman is tiny; based on his career and raw ability over a lifetime many would argue that he’s simply the best living. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him twice – in Wichita, KS in 1994, during the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s dazzling 50th anniversary season, and yesterday at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Perlman’s only 2017 engagement in our town.
Perlman’s singular talent and well-known charm were on full display at the packed opera house – the program was billed as a recital, a performance with the pianist Rohan DeSilva. The duo’s repertoire followed a traditional Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern trajectory. First up was Vivaldi’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Continuo, the briefest of the primary works. It’s a lively and approachable number, a complex but none-too-pensive opener.
Second up was one of my favorite works – Beethoven’s Sonata Number 5 in F Major, the “Spring” sonata. It’s a lovely piece, written in classic sonata form – I love the second movements of most of Beethoven’s violin sonatas; Number Five’s is especially enchanting. Most of my exposure to the work comes from an online recording by the great Anne Sophie Mutter with pianist Lambert Orkis, so it was fun to hear the differences between her approach and Perlman’s. The Lyric’s listings caused some suspense – the printed program book listed Beethoven’s First Sonata, but the online listing showed the Fifth, so prior to the show I was unsure which he would play. I confess to delight that it ended up being Number Five – the recital accompanied a picture perfect “Spring” day in Chicago; perhaps the weather cast the tiebreaking vote for Perlman.
The Romantic piece, Schumann’s Opus 73, Fantasiestucke, was originally written for clarinet in 1849. It’s intensely passionate and intricate, full of the emotional turmoil that characterizes Schumann and romantic music in general.
My favorite work of the day was the final pre-announced piece – Ravel’s phenomenal Sonata for Violin and Piano Number 2 in G Major. The fusion of modern lyricism and jazz, combined with boundless energy, virtuosity, and a breathtaking final movement make it one of the fullest violin concertos I’ve learned about. Perlman rocked it.
The program also promised additional works to be announced from the stage, and as I hoped Perlman grabbed a microphone after the formal program. He’s witty and charming, and his joke about keeping track of all the pieces he’s played for Chicago “since 1912” was received with laughter. He’s a funny guy – totally relatable, and humble. He finished up with five short pieces – a Kreisler, a Brahms/Joachim Hungarian Dance, Ries’s Perpetual Motion, and a Wieniawski finger-twister. He also included the John Williams theme from the film Schindler’s List.
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to see him. We paid for the good seats, so we had a great view – even so, we appreciated the large screen close-ups that flanked the Lyric Opera’s big stage. Fellow violinists will appreciate his virtuosity despite his big hands – if he can manage to squeeze those things onto his Stradivarius fingerboard then there’s hope for me too. He’s scheduled to appear at Symphony Center next year; I’m definitely considering it – none of us is getting any younger.
Thanks for reading.