Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden. Pinchas Zukerman, violin. Meyerson Symphony Center. September 26, 2015
DALLAS – A few weeks ago, retired music director of the National Arts Center Orchestra (NAC), violinist Pinchas Zukerman opened the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) season with a performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, covered for Musical Toronto by Arthur Kaptainis. From there, Zuckerman went on to Dallas, Texas where he was the guest artist for the Dallas Symphony’s 2015-2016 season Gala opening, a formal affair with a concert sandwiched between a sit-down dinner and an after-party, all taking place in the Meyerson Symphony Center. More than $500,000 was raised for the DSO on this night.
At the age of 67, Zukerman, as handsome as ever – now with a mane of silvery hair – is still one of the finest violinists of his generation. Admittedly, I have seen him on several occasions in past years playing as if he was on auto-pilot, but not on this night. Here he was fully engaged and playing like the master he is. To my ears, Zuckerman has always had the most beautiful tone of all the great violinists of our time, as well as a chamber music player’s flair for give and take with an orchestra.
Zukerman’s and van Zweden’s Beethoven were on exactly the same wavelength. Soloist and conductor clearly respect the printed score and take few liberties in matters of dynamics or tempo. Even in the poignant G minor section of the first movement, Zukerman did not slow down to wallow in the emotion of this passage. In the slow movement too, he kept the music moving forward where many soloists stretch out nearly every phrase. Although neither Zukerman nor van Zweden appear to have been moved by the insights of the historically informed performance proponents, they nonetheless manage to find the heart and soul of Beethoven’s music.
Jaap van Zweden and the DSO recorded a powerful performance of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony in 2007. Since then, many new players have been added to the orchestra and van Zweden’s demanding work with the musicians has raised the level of playing to an even higher standard. The Gala concert performance was astonishing in its precision and attention to detail. Van Zweden insisted on following the composer’s often very fast metronome markings for this symphony, and the results were electrifying. Strings were never covered by trumpets and timpani yet this Symphony has never sounded more thrilling. The horn playing was fearless and heroic, with David Cooper leading the way and the timpani playing by Brian Jones was almost frightening in its power.
But it wasn’t all speed and virtuosity. Although van Zweden did take a much faster tempo in the Allegretto than do many conductors, I was struck by how right it sounded. The outer movements of the symphony are often cited for their dance character. In this performance, the Allegretto too had a terpsichorean quality. If the conductor can find exactly the right tempo, more often than not, he/she will find the genuine character of the music.
Not all the members of the Dallas Symphony respond well to Jaap van Zweden’s leadership – rumblings of discontent have occasionally made their way to the Press – but from an audience perspective, the orchestra has never sounded better. All sections are in fine form, and the addition of concertmaster Alexander Kerr has made an enormous difference to the strings.
The 2015-2016 season is off to a great start with some exciting concerts to come – among them, van Zweden conducting the Bruckner Fifth Symphony, Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied and Act I of Die Walküre. Another European tour will cap the season.
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