Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26
Symphony No.6 in A
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
New York Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley
Reviewed: 9 January, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
The New York Philharmonic conducted by Christoph Eschenbach performed Max Bruch’s popular First Violin Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman, followed by Bruckner’s infrequently played Sixth Symphony. Both works were written in the second half of the 19th-century, about fourteen years apart. Yet they are worlds removed in temperament and character; Bruch more inclined toward the romanticism of Mendelssohn and Schumann, Bruckner strongly influenced by Beethoven and Wagner.
Zukerman is an old hand with the Bruch concerto, but he seemed a bit withdrawn and his tone was not as refined as it once was. Yet he gave a marvelous performance, rich in lyricism, ardently communicative, and always in perfect control. He drew vibrant intensity and fiery passion from the first movement that leads directly into the Adagio, where his soulful expressivity added a warm glow to the music’s sentimentality. The finale began rather cautiously but built to splendor, Zukerman effortlessly negotiating the challenging passages while remaining somewhat distant from the deepest romantic effusions. He pressed forward intently to the close, lighting up the last bars with fiery temperament. Eschenbach respectfully accompanied him, but enhanced the passages for orchestra alone with passionate expression.
Although Bruckner had already established the dominant structural design of his symphonies long before the Sixth, it did not prove fully successful until the Seventh and Eighth. Although the opening Maestoso and the scherzo of the Sixth are dramatic and full of tension, they are overshadowed negatively by the Adagio, which fails to accomplish its apparent goal, and by the least successful movement, the finale, which suffers from rather threadbare material.
As for the performance, the Philharmonic sounded superb, strong and full-bodied in the fortissimos and stunningly expressive in the softer lyrical passages. Yet the musicians did not produce the lustrous Brucknerian sound that would have enhanced the rendition immeasurably; Eschenbach seemed intent on having the brass drive through the rest of the orchestra with enormous force, content to let the powerful passages thunder forth with unrestrained volume. As a result, the account often sounded static, foursquare and lacking in urgency; merely loud rather than dynamic. One could also take issue with Eschenbach’s handling of the lyrical music, making it gushy and excessively effusive in the first movement and utterly morose in the Adagio, which, despite the exquisite string-playing, was sluggish, lacking in tension and appearing aimless. A rather too-comfortable tempo was set for the scherzo, in which fortissimo outbursts were treated with brute force, although the trio shone. A fiery closing section ushered in the troublesome finale, with heavily emphasized contrast between soaring mountains and quiet valleys, the former over-laden with bloated horns, the latter dripping with overcooked romantic sauce, a structure of large and small building blocks piled one upon another, virtually endless repetitions without direction or purpose, occasionally laden with a thick coat of varnish.