ISRAEL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
PINCHAS ZUKERMAN/ AMANDA FORSYTH
HAYDN/ BRUCH/ TCHAIKOVSKY (12-16-09)
AN IMPRESSIVE SHOWCASE
By Lawrence Budmen
The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has had a fabled seven decade history. Such musical titans as Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein figure prominently in the orchestra's past. Zubin Mehta has been music director for the past four decades. Violinist Pinchas Zukerman took the podium for the ensemble's concert on December 16, 2009 at the Arsht Center in Miami, Florida, USA. (The program was presented on December 14 at New York's Lincoln Center and December 15 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.)
This orchestra's performance has not always been consistent. In its early years the group was noted for its string section (populated by concertmasters from orchestras and opera houses throughout Germany) but suffered from weakness in the winds and brass. (For its first American tour Serge Koussevitzky brought in special wind players.) Today the Israel Philharmonic is a world class orchestra with musical strength in all sections.
At the Miami concert, the strings' precise, turn on a dime precision and articulation carried the day while the wonderfully mellow winds and whip crack brass consistently impressed. Celebrating four decades on the world's concert stages, Zukerman proved, as ever, a formidable virtuoso. More surprisingly he has become a supple, expressive conductor. (Zukerman's early recoding - as both violin soloist and conductor - of Mozart's Haffner Serenade with the English Chamber Orchestra remains a classic.)
An old fashioned, big band performance of Haydn's Symphony No.83 in G minor opened the evening. Zukerman utilized a large string section in the manner of Beecham and Bernstein's Haydn performances. Definitely the antithesis of the vibrato less, period instrument movement, Zukerman's muscular, full bodied performance emphasized wit and heft in equal measure. The warmth and stylishness of the strings brought strophes of grace and serenity to the Andante. In the third movement Minuet: Allegretto, the flute solo was phrased with elegance and wry humor, always precise of intonation and sweet of timbre. Zukerman captured the humor and whirlwind effervescence of the Presto finale, concluding a stellar rendition that showcased conductor and orchestra to great effect.
Zukerman's performance of Haydn's Violin Concerto in C Major was a joy to hear. The violinist has not lost an ounce of his stellar technique. This was highly romanticized Haydn. Rich, gleaming tone, burnished rubato and bravura showmanship were much in evidence. Yet the sheer musicality and aristocratic suavity of Zukerman's playing could not be denied. He brought refined elegance to the serenade of the Adagio. The Presto was a glint of virtuosic fireworks, tossed off with high spirited élan. Zukerman led the lively, highly polished string orchestral accompaniment with harpsichord providing charming continuo in the second movement. Forty years and going strong, Zukerman is still one of the world's top violinists!
Canadian cellist Amanda Forsyth (Zukerman's wife) played two rarities by Max Bruch - Canzone in B-flat Major, Op.55 and Adagio on Celtic Melodies, Op.56. Two lovely works indeed, the first dark and intense, the second breezily melodic and wistful. Both scores are replete with richly textured orchestral scoring. Forsyth's warmly rounded tone and lightness are highly appealing. She seems to lack passion, playing a shade too cerebrally. These Bruch vignettes need the intense commitment of a Steven Isserlis or Yo-Yo Ma or Lynn Harrell.
Concluding with an orchestral staple, Zukerman led a highly charged account of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet that did not sleight the drama or soaring melody of the score. Gorgeous string and sharp brass playing propelled this high voltage performance. The concert's only disappointment was the lack of an encore. The standing, cheering audience certainly expected one. Nevertheless the program was an impressive showcase for conductor and orchestra alike.