Perlman's older recordings of Mendelssohn and Prokofiev are better buys

CLASSICAL SOUNDS

May 29, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Prokofiev, Concerto No. 2 in G minor, and Mendelssohn, Concerto in E Minor, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and the Chicago Symphony, Daniel Barenboim conducting (Erato 91732). Prokofiev, Concerto No. 2, performed by Perlman and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf conducting. Prokofiev, Sonata No. 1 in F minor and Sonata No. 2 in D major, performed by Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy (RCA Gold Seal 61454): Comparing Perlman's RCA (recorded in 1966) and Erato (recorded last spring) versions of the Prokofiev concerto was fascinating. The basic interpretive approach is very close -- after 27 years, timings for individual movements remain within seconds of each other. What's different is the treatment accorded the violinist.

In 1966, Perlman was merely one of the most brilliant young violinists in the succession to Heifetz and Oistrakh. In the past 15 years or so, Perlman has so dominated the violinistic world that other violinists compare to him as stars compare to the moon on a cloudless night.

This progress shows in the different ways the violinist has been recorded. In 1966 the sound image of the violin is prominent, but you can hear details in the fine accompaniment he receives from Leinsdorf and the BSO.

In 1993 the sound image of the violin is simply gigantic; the recording makes the listener feel that he is sitting at Perlman's feet and that Barenboim's mediocre accompaniment with the CSO has been phoned in from another continent on a not-so-good connection. This is a shame because Perlman's interpretation -- while not in the Oistrakh or Heifetz class -- is a fine one.

His interpretation has grown deeper over the years -- there was also a fine recording of both Prokofiev concertos with Previn about 15 years ago -- and he plays the slow movement with greater tenderness and the final one with more fire. It's too bad that only half of Prokofiev's score is represented here.

Like the Prokofiev, the Mendelssohn has been recorded by the violinist at least twice before. But Perlman has never given the Mendelssohn a rest, playing it year after year. This shows in a performance that clearly suggests that the violinist is on automatic pilot. What really makes the RCA a better buy, however, is not only its budget price and more realistic sound, but also the superb 1969 performances of the Prokofiev sonatas with the young Ashkenazy. When this recording was issued 25 years ago, I remember thinking that I had never heard more brilliant or more musical Prokofiev. The recorded sound gives the piano equal status with the violin, and both musicians play these pieces as if they were in love with the music and with the opportunity to challenge themselves by working with each other.

Today, Ashkenazy continues to make records that sound as if he still loves music. With ever increasing frequency, the violinist's records fail to make that impression, sadly suggesting that Perlman's primary interest in the recording studio has become Perlman himself.

PERLMAN PEARLS

To hear an excerpt of Itzhak Perlman recordings, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6190 after you hear the greeting.

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