Outside, the world showed signs of coming apart; inside — in UCLA’s Royce Hall
on Wednesday night, to be specific — all was well. Itzhak Perlman is more than
just our best player of the violin; he is also a musician. Violin recitals do
not always count as serious musical events; at least half of Perlman’s
That half, consisting of sonatas by Mozart (the A-major, K. 526) and Prokofiev
(the F minor, Opus 80), drew much of its appeal from Perlman’s superior sense
of the ethereal elegance of a Mozart phrase, his phenomenal ability to turn the
slow movement of the Prokofiev into a gossamer thread of sound right at the
edge of silence. In both these works he drew immeasurable support, furthermore,
from the collaboration at the piano of Janet Guggenheim, the Bay Area musician
who has performed and recorded with him many times.
An eloquent and imaginative musician on her own, Guggenheim provided at least
as much of the shaping force in the Mozart, a marvelous, subtle work full of
dark, lyrical mysteries, as did Perlman. The Prokofiev, similarly — a work
both wry and introverted — similarly benefited from a continuous sense of
give-and-take. It is consistently to Perlman’s credit, in fact, that he knows
how to differentiate between the purely showoff aspects of, say, the music on
the second half of this program and music of greater intellectual substance
that demands a true collaborative approach. Not all violinists are that
The second half — that string of desiccated marshmallows that Edvard Grieg put
forward as his C-minor Violin Sonata, and another string of separate tidbits by
Kreisler, Poulenc, Albeniz and Tchaikovsky — did, of course, serve some kind
of purpose, as the cheers of the near-capacity crowd demonstrated. The
repertory may be mindless, but it can achieve a kind of glory when fiddled with
as Itzhak Perlman surely can. Master fiddler, master musician and, in some
antic stage routines during the encore pieces, a not-bad comedian, Perlman
ranks as best-of-breed.