Pinchas Zukerman Summer Music Festival at Cadogan Hall – 1: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Bach, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Mozart with Arianna Zukerman, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony

Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV1041
Verklärte Nacht, Op.4 [1943 version]
Exsultate, jubilate, K165
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)

Arianna Zukerman (soprano)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 26 June, 2014
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Pinchas Zukerman. Photograph: Paul LabelleMasterclasses, chamber-music recitals and three concerts with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (including Enigma Variations and Mozart 39-41) make up the Pinchas Zukerman Summer Music Festival (until July Second). It opened with him as violinist in J. S. Bach, primus inter pares with a handful of accompanying strings and a harpsichord, the first movement moderately paced, articulate if a little bit of a trudge, then opening out expressively in the Andante and concluding with a bouncy and zesty finale, Zukerman always tonally alluring and unapologetically using the whole length of the bow.

In Schoenberg’s early (1899) string sextet, Transfigured Night (inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem in which a woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant by another man), as enlarged by the composer for string orchestra in 1943 (revising a 1917 version), the RPO might have fielded a few more players – this is music that responds so well to Karajan-esque gloss and weight, but the goodly number of musicians assembled responded wonderfully to Zukerman’s lucid direction. Indeed it was a dream of a performance that immediately suggesting the dark of night and also an urgent expectancy. Zukerman’s flexible approach sustained the piece over 32 minutes (a little longer than usual but never sounding it), conjuring a vivid narrative, exquisite solo and reduced-number contributions, a generous open-heartedness, light and shade, and glowing romanticism (Cadogan Hall responding sympathetically) – all without harming the music’s internal logic and knotty contrapuntalism while leading to a dawn-breaking resolution. This was an impressive coming-together of musical minds.

After the interval, Zukerman’s daughter Arianna arrived for some time-taken and warmly-sounded (with organ included) Mozart. Maybe she was initially a little insecure and somewhat inconsistent in tone across the music’s range, but she was certainly very engaging in a story-telling way and once fully poised she sang with inviting openness, grace and a smile, the middle-movement Andante delightfully accompanied (if invaded for quite a while by a woman noisily opening a sweet-wrapper) and then with perky oboes to the fore the final ‘Alleluia’ was shapely and sparkling.

Last of all, the ‘Italian’ Symphony. Apart from the regrettable omission of the first-movement exposition repeat (and not just because we lose the numerous lead-back bars that Mendelssohn so carefully crafted), it received a near-ideal outing, crisply played from the very first bar, the opening movement appealing in its easygoing gait, the ear charmed by beguiling woodwind detail and by the obvious affection of the performers. The nocturnal tread of the second movement was lightly expressed if poetically phrased, then straight from sombre moonshine to convivial sunshine, a gentle dance elegantly turned, and then straight into the spirited finale, description and expression high on Zukerman’s agenda, the music benefitting from such consideration. The RPO and its Principal Guest Conductor made a good team.

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