Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman – Summer Music Festival at Cadogan Hall (3) – Bear & Italian Symphonies and a Haydn Violin Concerto

Symphony No.82 in C (The Bear)
Violin Concerto in C
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman (violin)

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 30 June, 2018
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Pinchas ZukermanPhotograph:’s Symphony 82 is the first of six composed for Paris in 1786 where some years later the title ‘L’Ours’ was added. The autograph score includes parts for two brass instruments in C specified as “horns or trumpets” for movements I, III and IV (in II they are in F) However there are some pedal notes in the bass clef which could only be played by horns and in the earliest manuscript parts Haydn’s copyist does not mention trumpets.

In performance, horns in C-alto, especially when supported by timpani, give a brilliant effect so it is difficult to understand why, having chosen to use trumpets, Pinchas Zukerman also included two horns and had them play the same parts an octave lower. The horns in the bass register therefore acted as ball and chain to the octave-higher trumpets making this seem a dull account. Zukerman’s skill in shaping themes while still retaining impetus, his subtle variation of dynamics and generally purposeful approach, were all in evidence but Haydn’s sonority was compromised – especially in the Finale where the heavyweight brass seriously dulled this potentially vivid music.

In great contrast, Zukerman then gave a reading of Haydn’s First (and most popular) Violin Concerto which was notable for its period style. This early work was composed for Luigi Tomasini, Haydn’s orchestra leader at Eszterháza. It is scored for strings with continuo. The presence of keyboard support is especially important, for in the central Adagio the soloist is backed by pizzicato accompaniment, and where Zukerman’s delicate and sensitive playing found harpsichordist Joseph McHardy supporting imaginatively but never intrusively. The cadenzas – presumably Zukerman’s (Haydn wrote none) – added suitably tasteful embellishments and gave a sense of continuity.

The repeat of the exposition in Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony is one of the most important in symphonic repertoire because a new melody – a third subject – appears only on the first-time-through, therefore it is essential for the Da capo to be observed. Zukerman omitted it, which loses twenty-three bars of beautiful music and reference to the melody only at the coda therefore makes no structural sense. But for this extraordinary loss, this account was very enjoyable – notable for superb woodwind-playing wherein every detail was audible. Tempos were well-chosen, the faster-than-usual Andante con moto being shaped to perfection and the Presto Finale given just enough space for accuracy while still providing considerable pace.

Zukerman then spoke to us, mentioning a South Korean girl that he had encountered and explaining that he wanted her to play with an orchestra. SoHyun Ko gave a superb performance of the Finale of Mendelssohn’s E-minor Violin Concerto. Her tone was smooth and colourful, and retained a velvety quality even in moments high in the register. Here surely is a great violinist in the making and she gave a further favourable impression in her brilliant and demanding encore, the First (in E-major) of Paganini’s Twenty-Four Caprices.

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