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For fans of the violin, a perfect pairing

Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman have been rivals, colleagues, and friends for most of their lives. Opportunities to hear them perform together do not arrive very often, so Symphony Hall was sold out last night for their joint Celebrity Series appearance -- one of seven they are giving in various cities this season.

Both violinists were born in Israel, Perlman in 1945, Zukerman three years later. Both came to America, enjoyed the patronage of Isaac Stern, studied with the same teacher, and won the Leaventritt Award to launch their careers. Interestingly, both in mid-career turned to teaching and conducting.

Last night they began with a two-violin sonata by J.S. Bach (or, perhaps, Johann Goldberg); the performance left it unclear whether they would bring out the best in each other. The lines of the music could be discerned only through thickets of warring vibrato. A Baroque duo-sonata by Jan-Marie Leclair found them on more stylish behavior, and the ornaments were neatly turned.

Perlman remained firmly ensconced on the first violin part and made the introductions. To announce some of Bartok's lively, folk-influenced duos that weren't on the program, Perlman said, ''We are going to play everything we are supposed to, but also some things we are not supposed to." Dashing as the performances were, it began to feel as if they were going to play all 44, but they stopped at eight.

Mozart's First Duo for violin and viola found Zukerman playing from strength as a violist -- he may play this instrument even better than he plays the violin. This performance was as warm-hearted, elegant, and communicative as anyone could hope for. The official program closed in a suite by Moritz Moszkowski, a composer best remembered for some encore pieces favored by virtuoso pianists. This piece is tuneful, well-made, and a workout -- also for the Sri Lankan collaborative pianist Rohan De Silva, who played elegantly and transparently and kept out of the way.

The encores were four pieces in popular style by Shostakovich, mostly dances (gavotte, waltz, and polka). Perlman and Zukerman played them with contagious panache.

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