Zukerman captures glory of `Seasons'

Music review

June 17, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Violinist-conductor Pinchas Zukerman's final season as artistic director of the Baltimore Symphony's Summer MusicFest got off to a splendid start last night in Meyerhoff Hall. After a pre-concert chamber music performance -- which I was not able to attend -- the orchestral program began with Zukerman leading Mozart's Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments in B-flat (K. 361) and concluded with Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," with Zukerman playing a double role as solo violinist and conductor.

Unknown a mere 50 years ago, the "Four Seasons" are now almost impossible to escape -- whether one is in an elevator, in an automobile or in a supermarket. It's little wonder that it's become difficult to hear this work with fresh ears -- as it was when the BSO performed it last winter with Sergiu Comissiona conducting and Anne Akiko Meyers as the soloist.

Fortunately, that was not the case on this occasion. Zukerman demonstrated that he deserves his place among the three or four greatest violinist of the last third of the century in a charismatic performance that was filled with charismatic bravura, exquisite finesse, imaginative touches and boldly characterized pictorial effects.

Zukerman's imagination held the sequence of four concertos together superbly, each of them marked by passages of pure magic. He is a violinist who manages to combine an opulently romantic and beautiful tone with a classically focused timbre.

He captured the gentle breezes of "Spring" as effectively as the furiously raging storms of "Summer." He was able to make his sound either meltingly beautiful (in his sensuously beguiling phrasing for the somnambulant central episode of "Autumn") or pungently percussive (in the same concerto's vigorous hunting finale). The concluding "Winter" was magnificent. The sotto voce opening was made all the more chilling by delicate textures provided by the imaginative continuo playing of harpsichordist Eric Conway; its intimate slow movement was warm and tender; and its exhilarating finale was charged with spontaneity.

Zukerman conducting in the Mozart Serenade for Winds was almost as persuasive as his playing in Vivaldi's "Seasons." The ensemble was refined -- with timbres well matched, contrasts beautifully judged, rhythms lively and graceful, and tempos well chosen.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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