Itzhak Perlman’s ‘Urgent Message from Mr. Beethoven’ at Luckman Theater

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After his genial opening performance of Mozart’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major at Cal State Los Angeles’ Luckman Theater on Saturday, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman motored (he no longer walks out on crutches) back onstage and announced he had just received “an urgent message from Mr. Beethoven.” Since his next piece was that composer’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 7 (“Eroica”), this listener quickly thought: “He’s making a program change.” But no: Mr. Beethoven said that though he liked the Mozart sonata, he was concerned that applause between movements was breaking the music’s mood.

“It’s fine with me,” Perlman said. “I’m just giving you the message.”

His disarming appeal to the capacity crowd was funny. And it worked. The audience remained quiet during the Beethoven piece and after intermission through Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne,” an adaptation of the composer’s “Pulcinella” ballet score.

Though he’s no longer the blazing virtuoso he once was -- Perlman’s a busy conductor and music director of New York’s Westchester Symphony and a teacher at Juilliard -- this recital proved his musicianship remains as vibrant and appealing as ever. His Beethoven and Stravinsky readings were not as dynamically and rhythmically contrasted as in years past, but his characteristic sweet tone and compelling focus earned the audience’s rapt attention.


After the main program, Perlman, who plays seated on his scooter, offered a half dozen works announced from the stage, including Gluck’s lovely “Melodie,” a crackling Kreisler transcription of a Wieniawski piece, and Tchaikovsky’s “Chanson sans paroles” (song without words), introduced by the violinist, who enjoys puns, as written by the composer “for a friend imprisoned for years” for a minor offense.

Before each selection, Perlman referred to a computer printout he said helps him avoid repeating scores he’s already performed recently in Los Angeles. “It goes back to 1905,” the 63-year-old violinist joked. “So you can tell me if I sound as good now as I did then.”

Pianist Rohan De Silva, Perlman’s longtime friend and colleague at the Juilliard School, was his vigorous and sensitive collaborator. In their bluesy encore, a Heifetz transcription of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” one might say Perlman sounded almost as good as he did in 1905.

-- Rick Schultz