Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Violin Concerto in G, K216
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
Reviewed by: Brian Barford
Reviewed: 28 June, 2016
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Pinchas Zukerman is an artist of the old school with a big stage presence and an affable manner. He’s the Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
This concert, the first of five in a week at Cadogan Hall, began in glorious fashion with Vaughan Williams’s visionary Tallis Fantasia. Zukerman and the RPO have recorded it recently and this was an expansive reading. Zukerman’s reading was one of lusty intensity with saturated string textures. Such big-boned nature was not to the exclusion of sensitivity. The smaller second ensemble, located above the rest of the players, contrasted well with the main group of strings and conveyed the ethereal quality of the writing in the serene sections. The entrance of the string quartet was well achieved and the viola-playing of Hungwei Huang was notable. One wondered afresh at the inspiration of Vaughan Williams and how he created a cellular work of coalescing fragments held together by solemn intensity. The final unison chord with its echoes of the organ loft was wonderfully achieved.
Zukerman took up his violin to direct Mozart. Whilst this may have ensured unity of interpretation it didn’t necessarily ensure unison of execution. The Concerto is lightly scored and the solo writing gracefully ornate but it does require polish and cohesion. The first movement was bright and happy but there were problems of balance and co-ordination. Things were better in the Adagio with greater poise in evidence. Zukerman’s sweet tone won through and his playing has lost none of its freshness and he can still illuminate a phrase with an unexpected flourish. He was dangerously fast in the Finale in and the oboes were also notable.
Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony followed the interval. Zukerman’s approach to this monolith was expansive and non-interventionist, mellow rather than dramatic if gripping in its own way but needed a greater sense of momentum. The first movement was buoyant and distinguished by some fine string-playing showing precision of detail with the woodwinds coming through well. The ‘Funeral March’ had beefy double basses at its opening which gained weight as it went along with powerful timpani cutting through. The Scherzo was swift with real lift from the woodwinds although the brass slightly blared. The Finale started furiously opening but needed greater accord across the whole. There was a Schubertian cordiality at times that was engaging and the emphasis on the lyrical held the attention. Afterwards Zukerman bounced off the podium high-fiving the string players.