|Schnittke:||Suite in the Old Style|
|Brahms:||Sonata No. 2, Op.120|
|Bartok:||Sonata No. 2|
|Bartok:||Six Rumanian Folk Dances|
Itzhak Perlman, violin
Samuel Sanders, piano
When Itzhak Perlman plays, people listen. A jam-packed house -- with 80 seats set up on-stage, no less -- did so with unalloyed joy Saturday evening at the Oscar Mayer Theatre, not because it was Perlman the superstar, but because the performance he made together with pianist Samuel Sanders was quite simply sublime.
Opening with a fairly innocuous Suite in the Old Style (not very) by Schnittke, the duo progressed quickly to sterner stuff, the Sonata No. 2, Op. 120 of Brahms. Better known as a clarinet sonata, the work is arguably not ideal for the violin's thinner, wiry sound. However, it was a very sensitive reading, though I felt Sanders might have taken things on a somewhat grander scale than he did. The first half closed with three Hungarian Dances by Brahms, arranged for violin and piano by Joachim. As one might expect, the pieces were irresistible.
The true marvel of marvels, however, was the Sonata No. 2 (1922) by Bartok. Sanders certainly stinted nothing here, nor did Perlman. The work is so incredibly demanding technically that one can scarcely believe it possible to play at all, let alone on the level of perfection heard in this concert. What's more, in it Bartok makes no concession whatever to simple devices in his rhythmic, harmonic, or melodic language, which poses interpretive problems for the performers, as well as difficulty of comprehension for listeners who do not know it intimately already. That would include me, as I've only heard it in live performance a couple of times before (recordings are a different matter). Despite that, the musical ideas and their consummate expression came through with an altogether stunning clarity, so sensitive and penetrating was this reading. There's a fair chance I may never hear as fine a performance again in my lifetime.
Six Rumanian Folk Dances by Bartok concluded the program. These are highly accessible and engaging short works, very beautifully played, with a healthy measure of wit and charm to boot. The enthusiastic audience reception elicited two encores. Fritz Kreisler's The Old Refrain was innocent enough. But then came Sarasate's Zigeunerweise, a piece of incredible virtuoso display, in which Perlman simply let fly with all he had. It was enough to bring the house down in wild pandemonium, and rightly so. It must have been a thrill, however terrifying, for the budding violinists in the audience -- heaven help us, so far to go! It isn't every day, after all, that we get to bask in the glow of true genius.
Isthmus, September, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson