Itzhak Perlman glided onto the stage of the Broward Center on Monday on his black scooter and received the sort of applause other violinists get for playing the entire Tchaikovsky concerto. Some people stood. He hadn’t yet played a note.
But this is the sort of reception that greets one of the most popular and perennial visitors to South Florida’s concert halls, and his recital packed the Fort Lauderdale venue, giving a boost to a classical series that has had trouble filling the house.
While no longer in top form in terms of technique, Perlman, who turns 70 in August, displayed many of the traits that put him on the summit of the violin world since the 1960s. His best performances, which both he and the audience seemed to enjoy most, came in the short pieces toward the end of the recital, where the warmth and grace of his playing carried the day. The one time a loud Shhh! could be heard in the audience was just before he started John Williams’ heart-rending theme from Schindler’s List.
Perlman’s bowing was occasionally unsteady, his tone sometimes warbled, and he produced more whistles and hisses than he used to. But the recital, in which he was expertly accompanied by his longtime pianist Rohan De Silva, was full of moments of the old Perlman.
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In Beethoven’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, he brought a courtly humor to the two-note motif that descends from the top string, playing with the sort of casual expertise of a man throwing himself into the music without worrying about playing wrong notes, but fairly confident that he won’t.
He launched into the Brahms Sonatensatz with dash and fire, yet brought a Romantic sweetness that was pure Perlman in the smooth manner in which he slid up the violin’s top string. Less successful was the Brahms Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2. In the first movement, the bittersweet second theme came off as constricted, without any of the nostalgic warmth that it needed, and throughout the performance, Perlman seemed more detached than in the other works.
After intermission, he and De Silva opened with the Ravel Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2. Maybe he was refreshed by the break or maybe he had warmed up in the first half, but he played in a much smoother, more assured manner, luxuriating in the tangy harmonies of the first movement and building up the Blues movement in a long crescendo that grew in power and intensity.
Next came works that he announced from the stage. As has become his habit, he consulted a computer printout of what he claimed were “the pieces I have played here in Fort Lauderdale since 1912” to avoid duplication.
He played Schumann’s Romance in A Major, as arranged for violin and piano by Fritz Kreisler, an ingratiating melody that just suited his bright tone and phrasing, as did Tchaikovsky’s Chant Sans Paroles. There were a pair of virtuoso works, including the Perpetuum mobile by Franz Ries, a rush of notes that Perlman zipped through cleanly, with his bow arm so relaxed it gave a nonchalant tone to his performance of this showpiece.
While he tried to avoid duplicating, Perlman said a recital of his doesn’t feel complete with the theme from Schindler’s List, and so he played it, with the honeyed tone, warm phrasing and honest emotion that few violinists have ever equalled.
The Broward Center’s classical series continues April 22 with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and clarinets Martin Fröst in the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and other works. browardcenter.org; 954-462-0222.
For complete coverage of classical music, go to SouthFloridaClassicalReview.com