Itzhak Perlman and the TSO’s Beethoven Violin Concerto reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

April 25, 2012. Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto

An explosion of brass in waltz-time opened the evening into a Russian grand ballroom, the festive  atmosphere darkened by insidious currents of paranoia. Selections from Aram Khachaturian’s Suite from Masquerade and Spartacus (1944) continued with concertmaster Jonathan Crow’s sweetly nostalgic solo on”Nocturne”, followed by a second orchestral waltz, this one a whirlwind of strings excited by tambourines, xylophone, timpani, cymbals and snares.

Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, Op.32 (1876) depicts a whirlwind blowing through the gloom of Hell where Dante meets the adulterous lovers Paulo and Francesca. The TSO’s big brass and percussion sections emit a tumult, deep, richly modulated and perfect in timing that alternates with sad, keening of winds and strings until Maestro Oundjian calls the orchestra to change mood.

Joaquin Valdepeñas’ solo clarinet sings soft and eerie, followed by a succession of flutes, oboes and strings who tell, in the heartbreakingly beautiful melody of the andante cantabile, the lovers’ sorrowful tale. Their recitation is lyrical and lovely, with flutey birds and breezes blowing over pastoral meadows. The orchestral sound is smooth, well-oiled, silky as a lover’s skin. The hellish winds return: the lovers’ music fades and is obliterated by the furious conclusion.

This first half of the program showed how gloriously satisfying it is to ride the big wave of a fine orchestra. After intermission, a leaner orchestra took the stage to partner master fiddler Itzhak Perlman’s recital of Beethoven’s noble Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 61.

A heartbeat by timpani and basses sculpted by Maestro Oundjian to resound in the space of the hall sets an orchestral ground, over which Mr. Perlman’s smooth, glassy highs trill and swoop like a skylark. The interplay of orchestra and soloist has just the right balance of lyricism, heartbreak, and thunder: virtuosity and order.

The slow movement is a stately procession, notable for the soft breathing of the horns that moves the music into the sublime, and somehow the word ‘holy’ comes to mind. The third movement is a dance of celebration, sprightly but without abandon. The lyrical counterpoint between violin and bassoon, the variations on a hunting theme by Mr. Perlman and orchestra, and his cadenza that follows are all felt strongly, but not too strongly. There is passion, and there is also restraint. There is virtuosity, but without any show at all. It is the classicism of Beethoven we heard.

There was a sanity in the music that lent a kind of elegance to the repeated standing ovations.

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