Zukerman and Biss, senior and junior, magical in Mozart

June 19, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

As he demonstrated last night in Meyerhoff Hall in an all-Mozart program, the second in the Baltimore Symphony's Summer MusicFest, Pinchas Zukerman has developed into a redoubtable conductor as well as a violinist whose playing combines sweetness with assertiveness, humanity with imagination and romantic intensity and feeling with classical impetus and delicacy.

I don't remember a more inspirational performance of Mozart's Sonata in B-flat (K. 454) than that by Zukerman and his partner, pianist Jonathan Biss. This civilized and aristocratic playing sounded almost like the music-making of the golden age -- unhurried, humane and uncompromised in its integrity. But it also reflected the joy and sense of wonder of pianist and violinist alike. The tempos may have been relaxed, but the performance was magnetic from first to last.

Biss is only 19 -- he still studies at Curtis with Leon Fleisher -- and he is a huge talent. His performance of the Concerto No. 21 in C (K. 467), which concluded the first half of the program, demonstrated that he is a born Mozartean.

With Zukerman and the BSO providing sympathetic support, Biss' briskly paced performance never sounded rushed. He made every phrase speak, and the subtlety of his inflections and of his use of color were remarkable.

Biss' eschewal of lyricism for drama in the opening movement made perfect sense because of the way it set off the famous slow movement. In this familiar music, there was depth of thought and tenderness of feeling that made it sound more ethereally beautiful than ever.

This boy also happens to be an extraordinary virtuoso. He took the finale at a tremendous clip that never sacrificed musical values. It was as exquisite as it was exhilarating: immaculate in its sense of line, infectious in its high spirits and nimble in its articulation of details.

The program ended with a bright, urgent performance of the Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner"), in which Zukerman encouraged trumpets and timpani to bite through Mozart's textures to dramatic effect.

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