(I wrote this slam as a freelancer for the Los Angeles Times in 1995 and was subsequently assigned to review Perlman twice more that same year. I would never write a review in such a bratty manner these days — I was obviously trying to prove something, to out-Bernheimer, Martin Bernheimer, my boss — but it does make for entertaining reading. –TM)

MUSIC AND DANCE REVIEWS : Perlman-Lite at Wadsworth Theater
March 06, 1995|TIMOTHY MANGAN

It has been shown, under strict laboratory conditions, that rats fed large and consistent doses of margarine (in tandem with electrical stimuli to certain cerebral zones) actually come to prefer the taste of the oily substitute over the real thing.

Similarly, Itzhak Perlman played a recital Saturday night at a packed Wadsworth Theater. He exhumed his usual shtick. He executed his usual violinistic tricks. He gave his usual lukewarm interpretations of serious music and genial interpretations of light music. Almost everyone was happy.

The outer portions of the program listed two potentially potent names: Schnittke and Bartok. But, true to form, Perlman managed to find the pieces with the highest sugar content in each of their oeuvres , the Suite in the Old Style and the Romanian Folk Dances, respectively. He played both with careless aplomb and sticky sweetness. He may have not gotten a couple of the jokes in the Schnittke.

Sandwiched between were the Third Sonatas of Debussy and Brahms. He seemed entirely to miss the Debussy, its Frenchness, its curtly cut phrases, its volatility, the steeliness of its colors. He sounded adequately attentive to the Brahms, gooping up its low- and middle-register lyricism, going teary-eyed up high. Semblances. The “Presto agitato” finale became “Allegro moderato slightly upset.”

As a bonus, he added three of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. His accompanist, Janet Goodman Guggenheim, offered clarity and cleanliness, and sometimes more point than her soloist.

At encore-time proper, Perlman plumbed the depths of “Schindler’s List, Theme From,” Tchaikovsky’s Scherzo, a Chopin/Kreisler Mazurka and Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen.” The crowd oohed and aahed as if he were a trapeze artist. A few of us rats still prefer butter, though.