Introduction and Allegro, for string quartet and string orchestra, Op.47
Violin Concerto in A, K219
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker
Reviewed: 5 July, 2016
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
The Pinchas Zukerman Summer Festival for this year ended with this programme of three undoubted masterpieces, opening (as before in this series) with a British work – the first of a series of great pieces for string orchestra from the first half of the last century.
Zukerman has matured into a splendid conductor whilst retaining his mastery of the violin. His podium gestures are economical yet apposite, with much artistic work having been done during rehearsal. We know that Elgar’s Opus 47 has been recorded (and recently released) by these musicians, so it was already well-embedded in the consciousness of all participants, yet it truly is a difficult work to perform well – not only technically (the challenges it poses are formidable) but also structurally, in terms of ensuring the Allegro evolves naturally from the drama of the Introduction. In addition, the role Elgar assigns the string quartet of section leaders (here Duncan Riddell, Elen Hâf Rideal, Abigail Fenna and Tim Gill) poses problems of balance, which is not something to be taken for granted in Cadogan Hall. Some moments were not exactly ideal – but this is a curmudgeonly comment when set against the sheer musicality of Zukerman’s conducting. He carried the very full RPO string strength with him all the way in a reading that was infused with warmth and expressive detail. Not for Zukerman the unconvincing approach of some who view the piece as emotionless virtuosity: here was the real thing, at times quite moving and totally committed.
The strings were considerably (and rightly) reduced for Mozart’s final wholly authentic Violin Concerto, now known as the ‘Turkish’. Amongst Zukerman’s earliest recordings, some forty years ago now, was a set of the Mozart Concertos with Daniel Barenboim conducting. Zukerman re-made them several years later with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, this time without a conductor; and in this RPO concert he was the soloist and the director. The result was wholly integrated and coherent, and so intensely musical throughout. An intriguing point was the cadenzas – composed by Barenboim in quite good style – although the suggestion of a double-stopped cadence at the end of the first one would have been unknown to Mozart (he never wrote a violin part with double-stopping). The performance throughout was an unalloyed delight, with judicious tempos and good balance.
Behind Zukerman’s later emergence as a conductor lies his enormous experience as a performing musician in a wide variety of repertoire, albeit ‘standard’. With Beethoven’s Fifth – the most well-known of all Symphonies – Zukerman delivered a performance that was light-years away from the routine. He was once again his own man, but never to the point of idiosyncrasy. This account was of consistent musical insight: the first-movement repeat correctly observed, the six-note bassoon phrase in the recapitulation not wrongly given to the horn (as is still the case in some quarters), and the essential repeat in the Finale was also taken, with cumulatively telling effect.
All in all, this restored one’s belief in the proper performance of great music and completed a hugely successful concert.