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Music Review

Slow off the bat, but worth the wait

Itzhak Perlman hit his stride in Strauss's opus 18 Sonata. Itzhak Perlman hit his stride in Strauss's opus 18 Sonata.

Guiding the Cincinnati Reds to consecutive World Series titles in the 1970s, Sparky Anderson was notoriously impatient in letting a pitcher find his groove after a shaky start. Thankfully, Captain Hook (as Anderson was dubbed) wasn't managing Itzhak Perlman's Celebrity Series recital at Symphony Hall on Sunday, or the violinist might never have made it to the second piece.

Opening with Bach's E Major Sonata for violin and keyboard (BWV 1016), Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva never settled into an easy, solid partnership. A limpid but rhythmically blurry piano tone and tentative bowing made for homogenized, directionless phrases and, often, suspect intonation. The final running allegro was at cross-purposes, Perlman's weighty, vertical accents wrestling with De Silva's horizontal push.

But the ship was righted in Strauss's opus 18 Sonata, the epitome of that composer's youthful style of hyper-Romanticism, breathtaking and shameless in equal measure. The duo was in command from the outset, each phrase shot through with purpose and flair. De Silva tossed off fistfuls of notes with adroit athleticism, and the opening of the slow movement alone - Perlman's yearning, arching gambit gently sliding into a theatrical whisper - had more personality than the whole of the Bach. The grandiose finale was vintage Perlman, extroverted and spontaneous, as was a ravishing reading of Schumann's opus 73 "Phantasiestücke" ("Fantasy Pieces"): Perlman spun out an intimate tone, gold leaf rubbed onto every corner of the music, with the performers in a synergy of attentive detail and quicksilver flow.

Perlman closed with a series of encores, announced from the stage with avuncular, vaudevillian charm. De Silva brought along a stack of music and a broom, the better to facilitate a Red Sox allusion. For all the relaxed silliness in between pieces, the music-making remained on a high level, be it Perlman's subtle variations of articulation in the repeated motives of Tchaikovsky's "Chanson sans paroles" (composed, as Perlman asserted with Borscht Belt earnestness, for a friend in prison), or the roller coaster virtuosity of Jascha Heifetz's transcription of Domenico Paradies's 1754 "Toccata."

The convincingly anachronistic lushness of two of Fritz Kreisler's notorious forgeries of 18th-century composers rendered moot the afternoon's tenuous beginning: A "Minuet" in the style of Gaetano Pugnani strode with crisp nobility, while a "Sicilienne and Rigaudon" ascribed to François Francoeur finished with fleet, silky panache. Velocity, timing, control - sometimes an ace just takes a little longer to warm up.

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Itzhak Perlman, violin; Rohan De Silva, piano

At: Symphony Hall, Sunday

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