Zukerman, BSO play Elgar with passion

October 26, 1990|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Near the end of the Elgar Violin Concerto's final movement is an accompanied cadenza in which the soloist rhapsodizes on material from the first movement while the orchestra's string players use their fingers to produce a sound that can only be described as ethereal. It is the most extraordinary part of a concerto that is nearly the equal of those by Beethoven or Brahms. Last night in Meyerhoff Hall, Pinchas Zukerman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with its music director David Zinman, entered as deeply into the Elgar's heart as any interpretation I have ever heard.

It may not have been a performance to please all tastes. Zukerman played the piece very, very slowly, and he used a vibrato so sobbingly wide that it recalled (to at least one listener) the heyday of Misha Elman. But Zukerman knew exactly what he was doing. The Elgar is a nostalgic, if not a tragic, piece; everything the violinist did caused a catch in the throat. While the performance was slow, the musical line never sagged. The fluctuation of tempos always seemed organic and the juxtaposition of themes inevitable. The playing of the orchestra under Zinman was accurate, finely detailed and as passionate as that of the soloist.

The rest of the program was not as pleasing. There was the world premiere of Richard Danielpour's "The Awakened Heart." The young composer (he is 34) is talented -- I remember liking his "First Light," which the orchestra performed last year, very much -- but I would not like to hear this 20-minute piece in three sections again. It seemed derivative and obvious: The first movement was loud; the meditative second one sounded like bottom-draw Copland; and the best parts of the fast final movement sounded as if they were lifted straight out of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre."

The concert began with a performance of Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 in which both conductor (the interpretation was tepid) and orchestra (intonation left something to be desired) sounded bored.

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