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Label : Warner
Format : Flac track
Cover : Yes

The Complete Warner Recordings embraces every aspect of the great violinist’s art. It contains concertos (the ‘essential’ concertos, of course, but also more rarely-heard works, including Perlman’s own commissions from living composers); other pieces for violin and orchestra; chamber music; recital and crossover repertoire (including jazz, ragtime and klezmer), and even a disc that focuses on Perlman as narrator and (briefly) opera singer. The recordings document his collaborations with the world’s greatest orchestras and an array of superlative fellow-soloists and conductors, including Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Plácido Domingo, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Lynn Harrell, Yo Yo Ma, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn and Pinchas Zukerman.

The box set also contains a beautifully produced hardback book, featuring a wealth of photographs, many of them from private collections and never before published. Running to more than 100 pages, it contains a new interview with Itzhak Perlman (written by Jean-Michel Molkhou), an essay on his life and career and personal tributes from distinguished and varied fellow musicians, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Renaud Capuçon, Ivry Gitlis, Gidon Kremer, Yo-Yo Ma, Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov.

Let’s be honest and just say it: no other violinist before the public since Heifetz rivals Perlman in versatility, consistency, and overall technical excellence, although Perlman is a very different artist. Where Heifetz often came across as emotionally cool, Perlman’s big heart, and big vibrato, are legendary. Whereas Heifetz unashamedly dominated his partners in chamber music, Perlman can be the most considerate of collaborators, as in the Beethoven Piano Trios (with Ashkenazy and Harrell), the String Trios (Zukerman and Harrell), the Brahms Violin Sonatas (with Ashkenazy), Beethoven and Franck Sonatas (with Argerich), and even in his numerous collections with Samuel Sanders (The Spanish Album is particular fun).

Many of the concerto performances in this set remain reference recordings: Beethoven and Brahms (with Giulini), Korngold and Conus (with Previn), Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy (with Mehta), the Bartók Second Concerto (Previn again), Glazunov (Mehta), Khachaturian (Mehta), and Goldmark (Previn). Sure, there will always be differences of opinion about these things, but there’s no gainsaying the quality of Perlman’s playing or the musical integrity of his interpretations. It’s often noted that his remakes of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos with Barenboim weren’t as fine as his first readings with Giulini, but that’s an easy criticism to make: they hardly could have been better, and it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely in what way they are worse, at least as regards the soloist.

For my money, some of the most enjoyable discs are the ones where Perlman goes off the beaten path and makes unusual repertoire his own. I’m thinking of the delightful Sinding Suite, concertos by Bruch (No. 3), Ben-Haim, Castelnuovo-Tedesco (No. 2–sound clip), and the lovely disc of “Concertos from my Childhood”. His Shostakovich First Concerto and the disc of American concertos and concertante pieces (Bernstein, Barber, and Foss) have always been underrated. So for that matter has his Bach, both the Sonatas and Partitas and the multiple versions of the concertos; but his recital of shorter French orchestral works (Ravel, Saint-Saëns, and Chausson) with Martinon remains a classic.

Perlman’s numerous “pops” programs–Joplin, Kreisler, the Heifetz tribute, Klezmer music, and so forth–remain a matter of personal taste, but they are almost invariably smartly assembled and played with the same warmth and musicality that characterizes his work in the classical standards. Like all of the best performers, Perlman treated light music with respect, and could make it sound better than at least some of it probably is. But then, you could say the same of Wieniawski, right?

The one composer conspicuously missing from this otherwise comprehensive survey of everything worth hearing on the violin is Mozart, but that’s covered in DG’s Perlman box. Perlman was, in fact, an interesting artist (especially compared to the hot-shot violinists of today) in that he seemed not to be in any hurry to record the music of the Viennese classical masters, and the general excellence of the results when he did get around to it attests to the wisdom of that decision. So if you’re collecting big boxes of violin music and already have the Heifetz Edition, get this and you’ll be set for life.

Complete tracklist : Itzhak Perlman – The Complete Warner Recordings

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