Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman – Mozart & Shostakovich

Le nozze di Figaro – Overture
Violin Concerto in A, K219
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 23 May, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Pinchas ZukermanPinchas Zukerman is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor. It is a close and productive relationship. The Overture to The Marriage of Figaro was perfectly-paced in its moderation, poised in its execution, dynamic (without bulges) and each note was traced with significance. Such urbanity also informed the concerto, relaxed yet persuasive, the RPO unfolding the introduction with certainty. Zukerman’s first entry set the trend: sweet-toned and romantic. The main allegro sparkled, Zukerman exploiting bright top notes and rich low ones, introducing much light, shade and subtlety. The slow movement was generously phrased, with much pathos, and the finale was elegant and witty to contrast with the stamping delight of the ‘Turkish’ episode; the return of the main theme was beguilingly ‘once upon a time’. One might quibble with the capricious cadenzas (unattributed), and the ‘crushed’ grace-notes in the finale, but the slimmed-down RPO was gracious and giving, contributing much to a rendition that paid many expressive dividends as distilled from Zukerman’s easeful mastery of the violin.

Zukerman is now an experienced conductor (he has been Music Director of the Ottawa-based National Arts Centre Orchestra for thirteen years) but Shostakovich is not a composer one associates with him; as far as I know he does not play either of the violin concertos or the Sonata but he does essay the Sonata for Viola (Zukerman is also a prime practitioner on the violin’s bigger brother). The mighty Tenth Symphony did not faze him. The opening promised much in its desolate brooding, the strings producing a special sound (violas especially soulful) that is perhaps only possible from a string-playing conductor, although Michael Whight was scarcely less meaningful in his clarinet solos, or Emer McDonough on flute. Yet however well-paced and sympathetically shaped was the first movement, the huge searing climax at its heart was arrived at a little precipitately and with trombonists loudly bludgeoning aside their colleagues (and it wouldn’t be the only time).

Whether or not the scherzo that follows is a portrait of Stalin (then recently deceased) it was slightly restrained here (the militaristic side drum woefully reticent, as it would be at the symphony’s close), lacking that crucial last degree of mania and mocking, if played with verve. Zukerman’s directness worked well in the third movement, a deceptive intermezzo that can easily hang fire but which here sustained a charged atmosphere because of Laurence Davies’s potent horn solos (at various volumes), some vehement pizzicatos, and then a good flare-up. The slow opening to the finale included an intense oboe solo from John Anderson that carried with it all the World’s burdens but, despite the good intentions, the high spirits of the ensuing fast music lacked euphoria, the coda just a little too ‘easy’ rather than being forced in its supposed joy.

Some balance problems and underplayed characterisation aside, this was an unerringly wholesome interpretation, very sympathetic to line and detail on behalf of Zukerman and played with palpable focus and concentration by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

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