Itzhak Perlman can do no wrong. He routinely fills Ruth Eckerd Hall with an adoring crowd, as he did Saturday night. Many of his fans probably haven't been to a violin recital since the last time he came to town, two years ago.
Perlman's appeal is understandable in an age of assembly-line virtuosos. He's a throwback to the romantic tradition of Paganini and Heifetz, a violinist whose playing transcends technique and communicates a strong sense of feeling and spontaneity.
But there was a slapdash quality to Saturday's presentation. Perlman's program wasn't printed in the playbill; also missing was the name of his excellent pianist, Rohan de Silva. So when the violinist came onstage, he introduced de Silva and announced each selection before they played it.
With his genial manner and phenomenal gifts, Perlman can get away with winging it occasionally, but it all seemed a bit careless. Numerous coughing fits in the audience didn't help matters.
Fortunately, Perlman doesn't wing it when it comes to his performance. Nor does he make any concession to a mass audience, playing a sophisticated repertoire of sonatas by Beethoven, Franck and Debussy.
Franck's four-movement Sonata in A major was the highlight, surprisingly contemporary sounding for a work written in 1886. Perlman and de Silva meshed beautifully, as in the third movement's interplay between bluesy piano chords and sensuous, sustained notes on the violin. Perlman's purity of tone in the upper register was almost otherworldly.
They wound up on an extemporaneous note, coming out with a stack of sheet music and apparently deciding what to play more or less on the spot. At one point, the page turner left the stage to retrieve another piece of music.
The informality made for an interesting, charming coda to the program, as Perlman and de Silva dashed through a series of short, brilliant and little-known works by Lili Boulanger and Antonio Bazzini, among others, that were flashy fun.