A Gala Evening with Pinchas Zukerman
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, Central
J.S. Bach: Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043
Joseph Haydn: Violin Concerto in C, Hob. VIIa:1
Max Bruch: Canzone in B-flat, Op. 55 – Adagio on Celtic Melodies, Op. 56
Johannes Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn, Op. 56a
Jessica Linnebach (violin), Amanda Forsyth (cello)
Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Pinchas Zukerman (conductor/violin)
Pinchas Zukerman (© Paul Labelle)
The world’s distinguished violinist, violist, and conductor Pinchas Zukerman celebrated his 60th birthday last year by endowing himself to a flurry of activity that leaves a performer half his age panting. By the end of the season, the maestro will have bestowed more than 100 concerts, leaving his footsteps on 17 different countries.
On Friday evening, Mr. Zukerman brought along Jessica Linnebach and Amanda Forsyth to a gala concert with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta at the City Hall. In this concert, this esteemed musician displayed his all-rounded musicianship by putting himself into different roles. In the Bach Double Concerto, surprisingly, Mr. Zukerman walked one step back to the second violin, providing modest and meek counterpoints to Ms. Linnebach. For ears attuned to authentic and period-oriented interpretations of Bach, which has been highly prevalent nowadays, this reading sounded too much poignant and affectionate. Ms. Linnebach’s glinting and gleaming tone, together with her colorful vibratos gave this rendition extra taste of expressivity. However, the price she paid was the over-romantic and excessively stodgy Bach. In comparison, Mr. Zukerman’s tone was more humble and elegant, setting stark contrast between two violins.
Mr. Zukerman’s trademark golden and mellow intonation was tellingly exemplified in Haydn's Violin Concerto. Although he did not intent to underline the finely polished phrasings and daintily delicate articulations, his almost improvisatory ebb and flow carried the kind of rarity that only last-generation masters like Yehudi Menuhin and Zeno Francescatti possess. Bewitching dynamic range was Zukerman’s other specialty, with his luster voice in the first movement cadenza and the most whispering pianissimo in the second movement. What left reservation was his under-rehearsed technical passages (particularly in the blistering runs of the third movement), which was characterized by some occasional out-of-pitches and scratchy sounds. The orchestra’s accompaniment was mostly in place and in sync, though the second movement Pizzicato was slightly unbalanced with the bass being too jangling and overwhelming.
In the second half, Mr. Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth brought to the audience two rarely heard concert pieces – Bruch’s Canzone and Adagio on Celtic Melodies. Here, Mr. and ‘Mrs.’ Zukerman showed intimate collaboration, but Ms. Forsyth’s hard-edged articulation and projecting but somewhat harsh intonation overshadowed some of the most rapt melodies from the orchestra, leaving the two pieces like a Paganini-style concerto rather than a dialogue between the two parts.
An elegant and courtly account of Brahms’ Haydn Variation pulled down the curtain of the evening. Mr. Zukerman insightfully brought to life the spirit and soul of every variation, giving them distinct and vivid characters that were particularly heightened by a group of suave and graceful woodwinds. Although the continuous flow of the whole work was sometimes interrupted by the inadvertently measured pauses between each variation, and the slovenly page turning by the musicians, this masterpiece still came across as a characterful and charming reading.
The Hong Kong Sinfonietta Website
Danny Kim-Nam Hui