Perlman, CSO offer fizzing performances for a worthy cause

Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 5:11 pm

By Jesse McQuarters

Itzhak Perlman performed with conductor James DePreist and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Monday night in a benefit to eradicate polio.

Itzhak Perlman proved, once again, to be one of the reigning virtuosos of the violin in Monday night’s “Concert to End Polio” with conductor James DePreist and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Their performances of Berlioz’s Corsair Overture, Stravinsky’s Firebird, and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto were nuanced, thrilling, and fitting encouragement to those working to completely eradicate this debilitating illness.  Substantial progress has been made in vaccinating against the disease worldwide- the number of polio cases has plummeted by more than 99 percent since the late 1980s. Global health organizations are making the final and most difficult push to ensure that the final 1 percent has access to the vaccination and prevent a resurgence of the disease.

DePreist led off the program with Berlioz, music written on a vacation to Nice in 1844 that pays homage to poetry of Lord Byron.  The composer’s overture style was immediately recognizable, with a rousing beginning, sweeping string runs, and brassy syncopated countermelodies that build to a tremendous climax.  It took a few moments for the orchestra to hit its stride, but once they did the performance was a fine example of Berlioz’s balance between jaunty simplicity and urban sophistication.

DePreist lost no time in jumping immediately into Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (1910 version), from the ballet composed for the Ballets Russes and its impresario, Sergei Diaghilev.  Some conductors take the ominous subsonic opening at a lugubrious tempo, but DePreist pushed ahead, constantly pointing the orchestra towards the glorious ensuing flute melody.  Throughout, Stravinsky proves himself to be as much a master of orchestration as Ravel or Berlioz, with constantly varying timbral colors that were brought out exceptionally well by nearly every principal player in solo moments.  The thunderclaps that began the Infernal Dance of King Kashchei startled the audience in their intensity, and Dale Clevenger’s pivotal horn melody, which marred an otherwise transcendent CSO performance led by Pierre Boulez last year, was respectable this time around.

The Orchestra Hall audience welcomed Itzhak Perlman to the stage with a standing ovation and once again DePreist launched the orchestra with little delay.  Perlman played Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with an ease, familiarity, and musicality that belied the virtuoso nature of the work.  Daring leaps up the fingerboard brought a deep and powerful expressiveness to the solo part.  Virtuosic arpeggios in the cadenza that can be technical show-stoppers for other violinists were honed into finely crafted musical phrases, belying the underlying complexity.

Perlman’s musical spirituality continued in the second movement, where his razor-sharp intonation and the crystal-clear upper range of his 1714 Soli Strad was on full display.  Again, amazing technical feats, such as beautifully phrasing a lyrical melody while trilling on an adjacent string, were impressive, but always served a greater, overarching musical purpose.  Perlman pulled the orchestra along for a whirlwind finale that continued to show off his boundless enthusiasm, intelligence, and exceptional musicality.  Two encores, Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesfreud and the theme from John William’s score to Schindler’s List capped off an exceptional evening in a most satisfying fashion.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Perlman, CSO offer fizzing performances for a worthy cause”

  1. Posted Mar 09, 2011 at 10:25 am by Sharon Costner

    I attended this concert and your critique is wonderful. An issue that I have with it though is your omission of the organization that arranged this concert and to whom this performance benefits – Rotary International. As the concert was billed as, “The Concert to End Polio, Presented by Rotary International” I find this highly troubling. When you mention this performance to be for a “worthy cause” I find it unfathomable that you do not mention for whom is leading this cause.

    I also feel that it would be important to note that Itzhak Perlman and James DePreist are both polio survivors. Hence their support for Rotary International’s mission to eradicate polio.

    Thank you,

  2. Posted Mar 14, 2011 at 11:50 pm by Jesse McQuarters

    Hi Sharon,

    I’m glad you mentioned Rotary International (, an organization very deserving of recognition and support. In order to approach the review from a strictly musical standpoint, I left out the information you mentioned intentionally, but it certainly has a place here as an addendum.

    Many thanks,

Leave a Comment