The Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta are busy-busy at the moment – eight concerts (each a different programme) over seventeen days, culminating on the Twentieth with Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, with which Mehta steps down as Music Director after four decades; given Mehta first conducted the IPO in 1961 (and a title was bestowed on him in 1969), the relationship is even longer.
This second programme of the current eight paired Elgar and Beethoven and reunited Pinchas Zukerman with Mehta; they are long-time friends. Together they know Elgar’s Violin Concerto very well (as does Zukerman with Barenboim and Slatkin, and Mehta with Midori and Menuhin), and this closeness shone through an often-inspired account, expansive in the first movement, intense and impassioned, too, Zukerman’s first entry a rumination radiating rich tone and then becoming more animated before the confidentiality of the lyrical second subject. The mood-swings – increases and decreases of tempo, various degrees of temperament – were encompassed as a musical whole; as well as Zukerman’s depth of engagement (if occasionally awkward technically and tonally uneven), another pleasure was Mehta’s accompaniment, spot-on to Zukerman’s rhapsodies of consciousness.
The flow of the central movement respected its Andante marking without denuding its reverie, and if the large-scale Finale was rather measured, there was a compensatory integration of episodes and a good slug of nobilmente along the way; a purposeful tread rather than superficial fireworks culminating in a hypnotic ‘accompanied cadenza’ (orchestral strings strumming) which brought Zukerman’s freest playing. From there the music arose out of twilight to a majestic conclusion. As a charming encore Zukerman offered Fritz Kreisler’s Liebsfreud (with orchestra, good arrangement), stylish and joyful.
The Beethoven received a time-taken outing, strings at full-complement, and with a masterly transition from a stately Poco sostenuto to Allegro, the latter leisurely if rhythmically incisive to keep faith with Wagner’s dance dictum. The Allegretto was of dignified tread and contrapuntal clarity; the Scherzo gambolled along and the Trio was moulded expressively (this was the only movement during which Mehta observed repeats, and then not all, but I am not complaining); and the Finale had its own internal buoyancy, elegant in direction rather than whirlwind, during which strength of purpose was steadily brewed, and there were exciting exchanges across the podium from the violins. In its own way this splendid performance held the attention and was also (to me) a necessary corrective to ultra-fast renditions that can sink this Symphony under sheer speed.