By Lawrence Budmen

Festival of the Arts Boca, a nine day cultural extravaganza, reached a veritable crescendo on March 10 when the stellar Russian National Orchestra was joined by violinistic icon Itzhak Perlman (arguably the Heifetz of our age) for an exciting evening of music making at the Count de Hoernle Amphitheater at Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. 

A capacity audience greeted Perlman with a standing ovation before he played a note. After nearly a half century of music making, Perlman’s technique remains miraculous. Whether playing double or triple stops in the high register or bringing forth the most glistening tone, his sound is unique and distinctive. 

Perlman has probably played Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor hundreds of times. Yet his performance was nothing short of extraordinary. Transitions between movements and sections were seamlessly achieved. In Perlman’s magical hands, the great Adagio became a darkly burnished lyrical outpouring of endless beauty and wonder. The finale was a display of super bravura fiddling. Bruch’s intensely felt romanticism was richly served; every bar exquisitely shaped. To hear this beloved violinist’s vibrant performance was to experience the score anew – richly expressive, freshly minted. The appreciative audience awarded Perlman a standing, cheering ovation.

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski and his excellent Russian musicians provided an adequate, if somewhat coarse accompaniment. Elsewhere this world class orchestra and conductor yielded exceptional performances.

Jurowski is in great demand for major orchestral and operatic engagements and for good reason. He is a real magician on the podium, at once able to conjure up the most mysterious aural timbres or bring forth the kind of orchestral firepower that excites an audience.

Stravinsky’s Scherzo Fantastique, an early work, was a mesmeric opener. Jurowski drew a panorama of multi-hued timbres and splashes of orchestral color. Two harps produced the most ethereal sounds. Assistant concertmaster Tatiana Porshneva led the strings in a feast of soaring tonal coloration. This score owes more than a little to the influence of Debussy and Ravel. Wonderful impressionistic glints of sound and tone came vividly alive in this superb ensemble’s performance of a fascinating rarity. 

Prokofiev’s Symphony No.5 in B-flat Major received the a la Russe treatment – a performance of overwhelming power and white hot intensity. The Russian National musicians were on fire. Jurowski brought passion and a sense of ever building momentum and architectural scope to the opening Andante. The Allegro marcato scherzo was a real barnburner with wind playing of distinctive clarity and beauty. With violinist Alexander Bruni in the first chair, Jurowski wove the Adagio into a lush, ecstatic wave of ardent lyricism. Unlike many conductors, he captured the music’s balletic fervor. A sizzling rendition of the finale capped an exciting, unforgettable performance of a 20th century masterpiece by a brilliantly gifted young conductor and one of Russia’s finest ensembles. 

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