PERLMAN CATCHES FANS AT SAROYAN
Titan of the violin delivers as promised.
By Larry Warkentin - April 27, 2010
Applause thunders. Fans are on their feet. The theater is packed from the expensive front row to the thin air of the back balcony. No, it is not a rock concert. In fact, the performer had not yet made a sound. Itzhak Perlman is in the house. Itzhak Perlman had just appeared on stage.
This is not the usual Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra crowd. This is an audience that has gathered at considerable expense to see, to hear, to experience greatness. In every mountain range there is a Mount Whitney, a Mount McKinley. Perlman is the Mount Everest of the violin world. His stature is affirmed by fifteen Grammies and a pocket full of Emmies. He has been honored by presidents and the Queen of England. He has performed with the great orchestras of the world and collaborated with all of the greatest musicians of the current era.
There is a casual warmth about his presence on stage. He takes his seat on a raised platform next to the conductorís podium. He carefully lays his crutches next to the chair. Maestro Kuchar hands him his priceless 1714 Stradivarius, or is he playing his 1743 Guarneri del Gesu this evening? Never mind, he could play Johnnyís student fiddle and make it sound like a million dollars.
The oboe sounds the tuning pitch. The slightest touch of the strings affirms that Perlman and his fiddle are ready to go. A hush sweeps over the faithful. Only a few of the usual coughs disturb the ambiance. The familiar strains of Mendelssohnís Violin Concerto in E minor float from the orchestra. Perlman raises his bow. The famous grin brightens his face. The hallow of his hair, which has turned to silver since his appearance here five years ago, glows in the stage lights.
Then the magic begins; flawless technique blended with a golden tone unsurpassed by any other human being. The opening phrases seem almost mater-of-fact. Has he lost his passion? Certainly not. He does not have to overplay as some younger violinists do to gain attention. Octaves in tune with effortless perfection. Cadenza, beautiful, brilliant and musically integrated into the themes of the first movement. Andante with achingly seductive mixture of pain and pleasure. And the finale, energetic, determined and ultimately victorious.
Perlman had the audience in the palm of his hand, or should we say, in the strings of his heart, from the very beginning. The conclusion brought them to their feet with shouts and enthusiasm that begged for an encore. He returned to the stage again and again. The applause would not stop. Finally, with characteristic good humor, he waved a white flag of surrender from the side wings, signaling that there would be no reprise. The lights were dimmed, the orchestra began to leave the stage, and gradually the applause ended. The memories remained. We had climbed the mountain with the best guide in the Himalayas and the view was awesome.
Oh yes, we must not forget the orchestra. They did play for the Mendelssohn and as good accompanists they contributed without drawing attention to themselves. Kuchar responded to every nuance of tempo and dynamics that Perlman suggested.
The management wisely programed Perlman after intermission. The first half of the program was like the warm up band at a rock concert. Few came for that. There were moments of beauty but everyone had come to hear the master and would likely have gone home at the break had he played in the first half. If Perlman was the bait to attract a good catch, then the orchestra was the net intended to bring in new members for the future. That being the case, one wonders at the selection of Sibelius Symphony No. 1 as the longest piece on the program. This net was too porous to catch very many potential new subscribers. At this stage of his career Sibelius is part Tchaikovsky and part Beethoven, but clearly neither. There are occasionally memorable melodies that stir thoughts of the Russian master, though not enough. And some passage of developmental clarity reminiscent of the German master, but they are more academic than emotive.
The opening clarinet solo was hauntingly beautiful and on the whole the orchestra played confidently. There were a few moments in the Scherzo when the scurrying Scandinavian elves seemed to lose their way. The ending was dramatically developed under Kucharís baton but then the composer calls for a sudden pianissimo that left the audience ambivalent.
A resounding performance of Verdiís Overture to La Forza del Destino opened the program clearly showing that the orchestra is capable of drama as guided by Kucharís baton. At the conclusion of the evening the memory that lingers is not of the excellent orchestra or the outstanding conductor, but the great violinist. One wonders if the bait has become more important than the boat on which it was carried. Never mind. We swallowed it hook, line and sinker.