Concert Review: Itzhak Perlman casts spell over Rockford Symphony audience

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112914871432158.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘The legendary Itzhak Perlman thrilled the crowd at his Oct. 9 appearance with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.’);

The Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s standard Classic series comes around regularly on Saturday nights, but this year’s schedule offered a separate treat, a Gala Concert, on Sunday night, Oct. 9, and the program gave the audience the feeling afterwards of having two separate concerts, each fulfilling its own way.

The first half of the evening let us luxuriate in the lush sonorities of Beethoven (his Coriolan Overture) and Schubert (Symphony No. 2 in B Flat). The Beethoven work recalled that composer’s recurrent fascination with heroism, which offered his innovative musical mind a channel to celebrate the rich and more forceful sounds of the ever-expanding 19th-century orchestra, which toward the end of that century would give us the large ensembles of Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner and others, a notable change from our image of the 18th century with its private chamber orchestras playing in the drawing room for the aristocracy. Beethoven teases us at the end, however, with a closing passage that is barely a whisper.

The Schubert symphony was composed by a teenager (16) who was about to embark on a period of productivity, mind-boggling in its breadth and volume, as well as its quality. Schubert is best remembered for his skill in telling varied stories so clearly and concisely in his song repertoire; in the 15 months that followed this symphony, he composed two more symphonies, four stage works, and, oh yes, a string quartet and a pile of piano music, and 150 of his 600 songs–all in his spare time while teaching school. In the symphony’s first movement, the flute passages recall merry bird songs, while the larger string instruments offer the stomping “ländler” dance rhythms of the Austrian countryside. The second movement, theme and variations explored the varied timbres of different instrumental groups in the orchestra. The third movement picked up the “ländler” mood again, while the fourth movement flew by as if Schubert was in a hurry to get on with pouring out the rest of the music that was crowding his busy head. He never heard any of his symphonies performed.

At this point in the concert, when the lights went up to offer an intermission, some of the capacity crowd that was assembled beneath the Coronado’s starry sky wondered when we would see the real star of the concert, Violinist Itzhak Perlman. After all, the evening was billed as “An Evening with Itzhak Perlman.” At age 60, Perlman has a long career to be proud of, beginning with concerts in his native Israel, where he drew enough attention as a child that he was brought to this country to be on the memorable Ed Sullivan Show at 13, and going on for a lifelong career that has carried him worldwide to earn the title of “reigning virtuoso” of the violin.

The second half of the evening opened with the sparkling Rossini overture to The Barber of Seville, and then, at last, there was Itzhak Perlman, whose personality alone makes us all wish we had a talent that could make us as joyous as he always seems to be. His first number, a somber Dvorak Romance, was dedicated to the terror victim Daniel Pearl, and bewitched us all with the silken smooth sounds that Perlman can draw out of his instrument; the liquid (almost seductive) flow of warm violin tones left many breathless in awe, at being reminded of the beauty that can lie in a simple melodic line. Then came two show-stopper pieces, Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and Fritz Kreisler’s very familiar Liebestreud. Both showed the fast fingering, the double-stop sequences, the musical lines that raced up and down the fingerboard, from the lowest notes to the highest harmonics, all enriched by the occasional smile of satisfaction and the sparkling eyes that let us believe that maybe he enjoys his music as much as the rest of us do. Otherwise, why would he still be subjecting himself to the strains of his lifelong concert tour?

At the end of the concert, as a standing audience seemed ready to continue the final applause on into Monday morning, and repeated cries of “Bravo!” echoed throughout the hall, there was that feeling of thrill that tells us we will always remember this evening when Itzhak Perlman once again cast his spell over Rockford.

From the Oct. 12-18, 2005, issue

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