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January 13, 2012

Perlman pays return visit to Baltimore Symphony as violinist and conductor

The classical music world, ever on the hunt for bright young stars with box office snap, still has some reliably surefire veterans. One of them is Itzhak Perlman, the most popular, widely recognized violinist since Heifetz.

Tickets for Perlman’s guest stint as soloist and conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have been scare for some time, even though, as was the case at his 2010 guest stint with the ensemble, Perlman is doing minimal fiddling.

People still want to experience his musicianship, still want to let him know how much he means to them. The waves of affection in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Thursday night were frequent and hearty. It is will surely be the same Saturday night at Strathmore and Sunday afternoon back at Meyerhoff.

The program provides a neat little music history lesson, progressing by means of well-worn pieces from Baroque to Classical to Romantic — Perlman does not typically stray far from those three genres.

I’m not sure that half of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is the most imaginative choice for the Baroque portion, but ...

it’s not a bad fit for Perlman. If his articulation in the more animated movements was occasionally indistinct on Thursday, his phrasing in the Largo of “Winter” and the “Adagio” of “Summer” offered a good deal of eloquence and tonal warmth.

There are other artists, especially those specializing in historic baroque performance practice, who bring more striking contrasts of tempo and dynamics to these scores. Perlman stuck to a more conventional path, and, giving tempos with his bow from a raised chair next to the first violins, enjoyed an attentive response from the BSO.

The fiddle safely packed away, Perlman then focused on podium duties. First up was Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, one of the composer’s most propulsive creations. The conductor took a particularly bracing approach to the tense first movement and drew out the lyrical elements of the inner movement quite effectively.

Supple, colorful work from the winds in the middle section of the Minuet cast a nice aural glow in the hall. Elsewhere, the horns hit some slippery spots, but the ensemble overall made an admirable showing.

To close, Perlman turned to the Symphony No. 4 by Brahms, one of the glories of the Romantic age. This is big-boned music. Even when it softens or slows, you feel the tension and sinew beneath the themes, the dark power fueling the rich chords.

Perlman’s long career as a violinist has included many terrific performances of the solo violin works, so it was no surprise that his account of the symphony should be so sure, passionate and communicative.

The interpretation held no surprises, no highly individualistic notions of rhythm or phrasing, but it did not need them. Perlman let the score speak for itself, and speak quite eloquently. The performance had gravitas.

This is the kind of music symphony musicians know and cherish deeply, and you could sense the enjoyment from the BSO. They dug into heart-searing melodies of the first two movements to impressive effect, rollicked through the scherzo vibrantly, and sounded thoroughly wrapped up in both the intellectual and emotional journey of the finale.


Posted by Tim Smith at 3:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: BSO, Clef Notes


what a remarkably insightful review. you made the concert come alive for me all over again. the concert left me in ecstasy. I, as you say, like the orchestra was completely wrapped in the glory of Brahms. Perlman was as good as it comes as a conductor

Thanks very much for your kind words and for sharing your enthusiasm. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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