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Friday, June 8, 2012

Concert Review: Mainly Mozart

Pinchas Zukerman leads the New York Philharmonic.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
And he plays violin too: Pinchas Zukerman. Photo from the National Arts Centre.
The violinist Pinchas Zukerman played the dual roles of soloist and conductor this week at the New York Philharmonic. For these concerts, Mr. Zukerman chose concert repertory more in keeping with the forthcoming Mostly Mozart festival than the big sounds normally associated with this orchestra.

In the world of classical music, the New York Philharmonic looms as a heavyweight ensemble, storming through orchestral showpieces and presenting vast edifices by Mahler and Bruckner. So it was refreshing to hear the skill of its players in a chamber orchestra setting, especially led by a world class soloist.

The results, heard on Thursday night, were a charming combination of Bach, Mozart and Stravinsky. Mr. Zukerman played the solo parts in the Bach Violin Concerto and Mozart's Turkish Concerto, leading the orchestra from the bow of his violin. He then traded bow for baton, leading Stravinsky's Concerto for Orchestra and Mozart's Symphony No. 39. Although the Israeli musician is better known for his solo work, he has over four decades experience as a conductor.

The concert opened with a slow, detailed performance of the Bach concerto. Although the Philharmonic played this baroque work with a chamber-sized orchestra, the sound in the vast, sometimes dodgy acoustic of Avery Fisher Hall had resonance and bloom. Mr. Zukerman played with full, warm tone, weaving his violin lines in and out of the counterpoint and working superbly with the principal Philharmonic players.

A genial account of Mozart's Turkish Violin Concerto followed. Again, Mr. Zukerman took a relaxed, refreshing approach to this familiar music, leading the small orchestra with his bow. The lyricism and warmth of Mozart's writing came through, with bravura playing in the long coda of the last movement which gives this concerto its Asiatic nickname.

Igor Stravinsky's short Concerto in D is hardly a new work, yet the spiky rhythms, occasional pauses, and complex melodic ideas were enough to elicit a rude groan from somewhere in the back of the orchestra. Mr. Zukerman ignored the cat-call, leading the Philharmonic string players in a tight, precise account that offered rhythmic challenges and rich melodic rewards. The three movement were played with great precision, with tricky stops and starts and small showpiece solos for the principal players.

The Symphony No. 39 in Ebelongs to the composer's late period, with a descending horn theme that anticipates a key thematic idea in The Magic Flute. The minuet, with its playful central trio was particularly graceful. The final Rondo was taken at a fast tempo. At one point, the ritornello stopped in its tracks with what sounded like a collision, until the listener realized that it was just an example of Mozart's sense of humor.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.