Dallas — Thursday’s recital at the Winspear Opera House was part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Classical Criterion series and was linked with the Dallas Symphony’s Soluna: International Music & Art Festival, although the link was tenuous at best.
Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax are the staunchest of the old musical guard, and to hear them play together is a rare opportunity. The duo released an album last August of the Fauré and Strauss sonatas for violin and piano. Thursday’s recital included those works, as well as the Mozart Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 17 in C Major, K. 296, and, in a Perlman tradition, “additional works announced from the stage,” as the program stated.
While both the Fauré and Strauss sonatas seemed reasonably well-prepared, competent if not consistently thrilling, the Mozart, while the least technically demanding of the three sonatas, came off the worst. Although Ax’s playing was precise and musical, with careful attention to phrasing and consistently glimmering tone, the same cannot be said for Perlman’s playing. Tone was often rough and pitch sketchy. The overall effect was of something cast off, rather than nurtured.
It was well that things improved after the Mozart. Perhaps because Perlman and Ax recorded the Fauré and the Strauss about a year ago, these sonatas were much more polished. Perlman’s shifts were still messy in spots, and there were occasionally other issues. While in the Mozart he seemed insouciant, these sonatas occasionally had him sliding into pitches, as if his ear knew perfectly well what his hand had forgotten. But for phrases at a time, listeners might recall the Perlman of three decades ago, when he may well have been the best violinist in the world. Ax, in contrast, still seems at the top of his game, gamboling across the keyboard with panache.
The best part of Perlman’s recitals is often the last bit, the “additional works to be announced.” This time allows Perlman to showcase his characteristic good humor and charm. Emanuel Ax, too, has a reputation as a delightful person as well as an extraordinary musician, so I expected more vaudevillian repartee from the two than was on offer Thursday night. They did do a slapstick bit involving the music being upside down, and a sort of Penn and Teller business with Perlman soundlessly mouthing his explanation of the pieces and Ax “interpreting.” But for the most part, they played it straight, giving listeners the first of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke for clarinet and piano. (These pieces are often performed by violists or cellists, too, but worked just fine in this version.) This is a lyric piece that highlighted the best things about Perlman’s current playing—his lyricism and his musicality. They also performed three pieces by Kriesler, “Schön Rosmarin,” “Liebeslied,” and “Liebesfreude,” which, again, Perlman does well, but which reduced Ax very much to an accompanying role.
Clearly, the enthusiastic audience was delighted to hear these two legends together in concert, perhaps none more so than the woman in a pinstriped pantsuit over a T-shirt reading “Manny Ax Maniacs.” While Perlman in particular is past his prime, I imagine that the surprising number of small children in the audience were there for the same reason that parents have had their children watch Halley’s Comet or the first moon landing: remember this, my darlings, for we will not pass this way again.
SEE MORE Go to our comprehensive Soluna schedule, which has links to reviews and individual listings