A bizarre thing happened Sunday during Yehudi Menuhin's recital at Royce Hall, UCLA.
After the beloved violinist concluded the first work on his program, Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata, and walked to the wings, many in the near-capacity audience got up and began to exit. Presumably, they thought intermission had arrived.
When Menuhin returned, he looked disappointed at what had happened. So did the mistaken music-lovers. Strange as it seemed, the famous fiddler may have abetted the error by not only encouraging applause after the first movement of the Beethoven but bidding his excellent pianist, Paul Coker, to take a bow. Could the fans have thought that what followed was the second piece on the agenda, Bach's unaccompanied G-minor Sonata?
Whatever, it has been many years since the famous artist has played at peak form, and Sunday's performance did little to alter the image of a diminished elder statesman applauded by a faithful, ever-credulous public. Listening to Menuhin these days is not all that different from looking at the emperor's new clothes.
A gleaming passage here and a lovely phrase there could not compensate for the sagging pitch, the squally tone, the lapses of focus and the rough, gruff attacks that marred the soundscape much of the time. The Fuga of the Bach endured unbearable stretches of sawing but, typically, Menuhin recovered for the finale.
Even without a reliable technique, he could depend on the heroic urgency of Beethoven. Through gesture, he could pull the wool over some ears, and he often did so in an agenda that included, among other challenges, music of Kreisler, Ravel and Wieniawski. He did manage a full-out, rapturous account of the Debussy Sonata, however, and the sinuous aria from Rimsky's "Le Coq d'Or" came off nearly problem-free.