Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman at Royal Festival Hall – Beethoven


The Overture to Egmont is a tricky number to start unanimously, as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Pinchas Zukerman demonstrated. When settled this nominally dramatic opener hung fire somewhat, rather contemplative if musically observant regarding detail and dynamics (typically); short on theatre as the whole was though, it meant that the triumphant coda became more of a Pyrrhic victory.

This Beethoven concert continued with Symphony 7, given an agreeable outing. The introduction was stately, quite trenchant, and the transition into the Vivace elegantly made and to a judicious tempo that gave the music a lilt to remind of Wagner’s oft-quoted “apotheosis of the dance” observation. Zukerman kept the Allegretto on the move, true to its marking, yet also noble, and then – vividly – went straight into the Scherzo (maybe to avoid the clapping between movements that had already started, but if it was a message to those who do it, it wasn’t heeded). Overall repeats were minimal, only some in the Scherzo (properly Presto, played deftly) and Trio (rather languorous if curvaceous) were observed, which was convincing on this occasion, and the Finale wasn’t rushed through, for once, to complete an interpretation without fad or fancy.

After the interval, an aristocratic account of the Violin Concerto, Zukerman playing himself in during the initial tutti, taken at a leisurely speed, the first movement becoming more animated in places if through natural growth. What was especially impressive, aside from Zukerman’s experience in this work, and his focus on it, was the chamber-music rapport that he and the members of the Royal Philharmonic enjoy. The contributions from the bassoonists were especially fine, but so too the rest of the musicians, Zukerman first among equals, although he became more outspoken in the first-movement cadenza (Kreisler’s) during which he also found a richer vein of sound. If superficially the Larghetto was just as time-taken as its just-gone expansive companion, there was no-doubting the eloquence of the music-making, and Zukerman did though ruffle the surface from time to time. The Finale was ideally paced, poised and with a spring in the step.

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