2015年11月9日 星期一

The wine of music from Itzhak Perlman (伊扎克.普爾曼之音樂釀)

Itzhak Perlman (b. 1945) is one of my best loved violinists along with such giants as Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrach, Yuhudi Menuhin and Nathan Milstein although they play in vastly different styles.I was so happy I got the chance to listen to him last night, not 10 feet away from him. I saw  the 70-year-old virtuoso in action, in a glistening red Chinese style silk "sam", live, on his scooter! I saw the very relaxed way he hugged his face over his violin over a white handkerchief, the way his head and his body swayed during various passages along with the music, the way he handled the bow, the way his fingers flitted across the finger board, the way he plucked at the strings, the beautifully even way he played double stops and I finally got to know how it was that he could produce the kind of very delicate, almost silky sound from his violin in the soft passages in a way which few other violinists could do. But I don't know enough about the violin to be able tell whether he was playing the Soil Stradivarius violin of 1714, the Sauret Guarneri del Gesu of 1743 or the Carlo Bergonzi 1740. But whichever it was, it was an unforgettble evening of great music and that is ultimately what matters.

The first piece Perlman played for us last night was by Louis XV's court orchestra master and violinist, Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764): his Violin Sonata in D, Op. 9 No. 3 in Adagio molto maestro, Allegro, Sarabanda: Largo, Tambourin: Allegro vicace, a piece said to combine the Italian and French traditions of music making.

The first piece was followed by another short piece. no longer from the 18th century classical period but a 19th century romantic piece by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): his Scherzo in C Minor of 1853 which forms part of a violin sonata for which his mentor Schumann wrote the intermezzo and finale and the latter's student Albert Dietrich wrote the first movement, a labor of love for the foremost violinist of the age, Joachim. The sonata is special because the keys of each movement was  based on the first letter of Joachim's motto (Frei aber einsam) (meaning "free but lonely"): F-A-E. Later Schumann completed the whole sonata by himself and Brahms' part in it was not published until 9 years after he died!

The third offering before the intermission was César Frank(1822-1890)'s 1886 Violin Sonata in A in Allegretto ben moderato, Allegro, Recitativo--Fantasia: Ben moderato--molto lento, Allegretto poco mosso, the only violin sonata written by him and intended as another labor of love: it was his wedding gift to his friend, another famous violinist of his day, the then 31-year-old Eugène Ysaye. This year is Itzhak Perlman's 70th birthday. He had been married to the violin since age 4! A coincidence? An example of Jungian serendipity? Whether that's so or not, it was one of the finest examples of a violin sonata written for the violin and piano, composed by a very mature Franck who wrote it when he was 63! What's special about it is its cyclic structure, which seems to suggest the endless cycles of life itself.

After the intermission, Itzhak Perlman came back to the 20th century, with the longest piece of the evening, 6- movement Suite Italienne : Introduzione in Allegro moderato, Serenata in Larghetto, Tarantella in Vivace, Gavotta con due variozioni, Scherzo and Minuetto e Finale in Moderato by the innovative Russian composer who started a music revolution early in the 20th century, Igor Stravinsky(1882-1971). This is a piece written by the composer in his so-called "neo-classical" or "neo-tonal" period, based on the ballet Pulcinella, in which Stravinsky worked together with the most famous choreographer in his day, the renowned Diaghilev,, the ballet itself immersed in the traditional Italian comedia dell'arte tradition. According to the programme notes, the Introduzione was adapted by Stravinsky from the Trio Sonata by Domenico Gallo, the Serenata from Pegolesi's opera Flamino (1735), the Tarantella from the 4th movement of a concertino attributed to neither Fortunato Chelleeri nor Riccardo Ricciotti nor Pergolesi but a Dutch composer Count van Wassenger, the Gavotta on a work for the harpichord by Carl Monza and the Scherzo from a Trio Sonata by Gallo whilst the Minuetto and Finale were from Pergolesi's opera Lo Frate innamorato and a Gallo Trio Sonata. I'll leave the origin of the various parts of the suite to scholars. To me, what's most important is how it sounded to my ears. And as far as that is concerned, it sounded wonderful. The Introduzione was simply delightful, full of joy, the Serenata was quiet, slightly solemn and wistful, the Tarantella was fast-paced, full of excitement and even a little quiet frenzy, the Gavotta was full of a kind of restrained courtly grace but its variations are rather more lively, the Scherzo, fast and furious and with the  Minuetto and Finale we return to a much calmer mood but the strong piano chords seems to tell of the underlying tensions though it's not without cheeky moments done with a kind of jerky jazzy rhythms which alternate with more with lyrical moments which comes to an abrupt stop

From what I could see, Itzhak Perman was obviously quite happy with the reception that he got and when he scooted back after acknowledging the aplauses, his assistant returned with a huge pile of scores measuring almost a foot thick! Everyone roared with laughter. We were wondering what he would play as his encore. He flipped through one of them and found out that it was something done when he was 12. He joked that he would probably played it very very differently now and anyone who listened to him play at that time would be so old now that he wouldn't be able to hear anything, let alone tell the difference! This drew more laughs. Then he picked another piece. It was a variation of a Corelli piece in Allegretto. It was one of my favourites.

When he was done, he picked another. This time it was another of my favourites. It was Albeniz's Sevilla, a piece the Spanish pianist and composer wrote for the guitar but it was adapted by one of his teachers, Jascha Heifetz for the violin and piano. It's difficult to imagine how music that was meant to be plucked could be transcribed into music for an instrument that was principally to be bowed and yet it was done and the result was marvelous.  Of course, the piano part helped.

But that was not all. Itzhak Perlman next picked another of my favourites: Brahms' Hungarian Dance, adapted for the violin by his friend Joachim who gave him lots of advice when he came to write his violin concerto

Then he hesitated a bit and finally settled on one of his own favourites, John William's now quasi -immortal classic, the theme in Schinlder's List, something emotionally very important to Perlman whose parents were Jews from Poland.

The final encore piece was Prokofiev's Love of Three Oranges, a delightful fun piece, a most fitting end to his concert, leaving everyone leaving the concert hall in an excellent mood.

Itzhak Perlman impresses me not just as a violinist. Of course, he plays with a kind of relaxed composure that only years of intimacy with his instrument and with music can bring. Listening to the sound which comes out of his violin, I feel like sipping a fully aged vintage wine, full of subtle flavors, full of the warm glow of the evening sun, completely without any burning sensation or undue exaggeration of any particular flavor which scorches one's throat, a kind of purity from a mature spirit, and if one still believes in the existence of some kind of  human "soul", a warmth and a humanity quietly exuding from that soul. He is more than a mere musician and a performer. He is a beautiful specimen of a flesh and blood human being.  I'm so glad I got the chance to listen to him, to see him live, and to feel him as a warm and very human human being who does proud to our species: dedicated, with flawless performance technique and full of insight on the kind of feelings required by the relevant music, humble, good-humored, easy-going despite his global fame. But I would be doing a huge injustice to someone who helped make the evening such a memorable one if I were not also to mention him. He is Rohan de Silva, Perlman's long time piano accompanist.  No, I should not describe him as a mere  "accompanist" because he is more like a partner in a violin-piano duo. I can't imagine how much would have been lost if it were not for his very sensitive play which compliments perfectly the Perlman sound.