The classical music world, ever on the hunt for bright young stars with box office snap, still has some reliably surefire veterans. One of them is Itzhak Perlman, the most popular, widely recognized violinist since Heifetz.
Tickets for Perlman's guest stint as soloist and conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra have been scarce for some time, even though, as was the case at his 2010 guest stint with the ensemble, Perlman is doing minimal fiddling.
People still want to experience his musicianship, still want to let him know how much he means to them. The waves of affection in Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Thursday night were frequent and hearty. It will surely be the same at the final performance there Sunday afternoon.
The program provides a neat little music history lesson, progressing by means of well-worn pieces from Baroque to Classical to Romantic — Perlman does not typically stray far from those three genres.
I'm not sure that half of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" is the most imaginative choice for the Baroque portion, but it's not a bad fit for Perlman. If his articulation in the more animated movements was occasionally indistinct on Thursday, his phrasing in the Largo of "Winter" and the "Adagio" of "Summer" offered a good deal of eloquence and tonal warmth.
There are other artists, especially those specializing in historic baroque performance practice, who bring more striking contrasts of tempo and dynamics to these scores. Perlman stuck to a more conventional path, and, giving tempos with his bow from a raised chair next to the first violins, enjoyed an attentive response from the BSO.
The fiddle safely packed away, Perlman then focused on podium duties. First up was Mozart's Symphony No. 25, one of the composer's most propulsive creations. The conductor took a particularly bracing approach to the tense first movement and drew out the lyrical elements of the inner movement quite effectively.
Supple, colorful work from the winds in the middle section of the Minuet cast a nice aural glow in the hall. Elsewhere, the horns hit some slippery spots, but the ensemble overall made an admirable showing.
To close, Perlman turned to the Symphony No. 4 by Brahms, one of the glories of the Romantic age. This is big-boned music. Even when it softens or slows, you feel the tension and sinew beneath the themes, the dark power fueling the rich chords.
Perlman's long career as a violinist has included many terrific performances of the solo violin works, so it was no surprise that his account of the symphony should be so sure, passionate and communicative.
The interpretation held no surprises, no highly individualistic notions of rhythm or phrasing, but it did not need them. Perlman let the score speak for itself, and speak quite eloquently. The performance had gravitas.
This is the kind of music symphony musicians know and cherish deeply, and you could sense the enjoyment from the BSO. They dug into heart-searing melodies of the first two movements to impressive effect, rollicked through the scherzo vibrantly, and sounded thoroughly wrapped up in both the intellectual and emotional journey of the finale.
If you go
The BSO performs at 3 p.m. Sunday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Limited availability. Call 410-783-8000 or go to bsomusic.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now