With cultural institutions staging their last hurrahs before things inevitably quieten down for the summer, the Winspear Opera House hosted violinist Itzhak Perlman for the penultimate performance on this season’s recital series. Mr Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva performed sonatas by Beethoven, Franck, and Debussy, plus several short works by Kreisler, John Williams and Brahms, for an enthusiastic capacity crowd on Sunday afternoon.

A couple of rough edges proved immediately distracting. After getting underway some 20 minutes late, we were presented with an opening act of sorts. The Winspear Opera House, like many opera houses, has a large chandelier. What is unusual is that its chandelier is itself a performer, as it spends the better part of a minute retracting into the ceiling, accompanied by a recording of music written by Philip Glass and entitled The Light, commissioned especially to glorify this procedure. This was the first event I’ve attended at the Winspear, so I was not yet familiar with the theatrics of this light fixture. At the very least it drew my attention away from the horribly late start. Further unwanted interruption came in the form of a renegade page-turner, with whose mishaps Mr De Silva constantly had to struggle.

The performance itself was far more satisfying, although not on all counts. As the spirit of collaboration went, so went the concert. The sonata performances were at their strongest when the dialogue between instruments was most audible, as in Beethoven’s Sonata in G Major, Op.30, no. 3. In the opening Allegro assai, both performers struck a fine balance between incisive and pastoral, and the finale was played at the boundary of rambunctiousness while never threatening to lose control. But the second movement provided the loveliest phrases of the entire concert. Mr Perlman spun out the minuet theme in his bold signature tone, with Mr De Silva conjuring a background that was by turns tender and grotesque, as when Beethoven’s bass note syncopations poke fun at the sincerity of the melody but end up only enhancing its poignancy. In this movement, the two men sang with one voice, regardless of who played melody or accompaniment. Had both performers been this completely in agreement the entire afternoon, the concert would have been truly spectacular. 

For most of the recital, though, the focus seemed to be more on individual than chamber playing, and the performance didn’t reach the same heights as in the Beethoven. Mr De Silva’s ability to play beneath the dynamic level of Mr Perlman was masterful, but far from covering the violin, the restricted volume of the piano became a problem of its own. (The use of the half stick – the lid being held open on the smaller of two possible supports – further limited the scope of dynamics and tone colors.) The lack of a deep piano sonority to anchor Franck's Sonata in A major, for instance, frequently gave the impression of two concurrent and equally brilliant performances on the two respective instruments, rather than one unified emotional statement. Here, and in Debussy’s Sonata in G Minor, the characters expressed by Mr Perlman and Mr De Silva diverged too widely, undermining the strength of the Franck and unintentionally exaggerating the skittish elements in the Debussy.

Fritz Kreisler’s Sicilienne and Rigaudon in the Style of Francoeur saw Mr Perlman at his finest in marvelous legato lines and brilliant spiccato flourishes, and the audience erupted accordingly. As a musician, I know first-hand the frustration of a three-minute trifle generating more applause than a half-hour sonata! Mr Perlman announced two further selections – the Theme from Schindler’s List and Joseph Joachim’s arrangement of Brahms' Hungarian Dance no. 1 – from the stage, concluding the concert with warmth and flair. Although these artists’ collaborative playing left something to be desired, Mr Perlman’s legion of fans in attendance certainly did not go home disappointed.