Itzhak Perlman is like a holiday church service: He attracts people who never goto church any other day of the year, his church being the church of classical music.
But unlike the preacher who scolds the swelling throngs for their non-attendance year-round, Perlman woos and panders to his congregations, telling them what they want to hear. Standing ovations, rhythmic clapping, whistling and hollering were his rewards Tuesday night at a full Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as he opened the Celebrity Recital Series.
For some of us who attend concerts regularly, this was a little discouraging. We know that there are better violinists these days--musically and technically. We know that there is better music than this. (Perlman ended this concert, as he did his last local recital, with Sarasate's three-ring, schmaltzy "Ziguenerweisen" with the same result--awe-struck appreciation.) We know that classical music can move on a deeper level than chuckles and grins.
Even his playing in what was ostensibly the serious part of the program was mainly superficial and none-too-tidy, certainly not up to his potential. He used Bach's Sonata No. 6, BWV 1019, as a light warm-up. Seemingly uncomfortable with its Baroque style, he never quite settled on an approach--to Romanticize, prettify, plain-wrap or deconstruct?
More comfortable with Brahms' Sonata, Opus 120, No. 1, he nevertheless avoided nuance and insight. His intonation was inconsistent, his clipped phrases sounded impatient and his accompanist, Janet Goodman Guggenheim, seemed to exist on a different plane.
The rarely heard Poulenc Sonata was a welcome inclusion, but in Perlman's care, it sounded neither French nor elegant, neither austere nor particularly clean. He re-offered his now very tired shtick of accidentally placing his music upside down on the stand, of pretending to not know who composed a piece and of feigning indecision as to what to play next at encore time.
He made goulash out of three Hungarian Dances by Brahms and relished the deep sentiments in Kreisler's "Schon Rosmarin" and "Old Refrain"--"Home Sweet Home" for Perlman, beddy-bye time for us.