Pinchas Zukerman launched his second Summer Music Festival at Cadogan Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme of Vaughan Williams, Mozart and Beethoven. As Principal Guest Conductor, he is to be commended for his attention to raising the orchestra’s profile and bringing a little glitz to proceedings – a sense of excitement was palpable in the virtually packed-out hall. Zukerman is known as much for his conducting as for his violin-playing, but sadly, much was lacking in all three of the works.

Pinchas Zukerman © Cheryl Mazak
Pinchas Zukerman
© Cheryl Mazak
It was a shame that with a name guaranteed to sell tickets, Zukerman opted for an un-thought-provoking programming. We have become increasingly lucky in recent years to be presented with concerts that reveal insights into great classics simply through innovative pairings, or that manage to prompt more interesting reflections on trends in certain instruments, music or wider human nature. The combination of the popular Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony manifestly failed in this respect.

Vaughan William’s Thomas Tallis Fantasia is one of the composer’s most popular works, a beguiling, intriguing onion of a piece which requires subtlety as well as showmanship. There was much of the latter; Zukerman took a broad, glossy reading of the score that was on one level attractive for the scope it reached, with an almost film-score sensation to it, but on another, disappointing in how he passed over opportunities to investigate the nuances and smaller complexities of the score. It made an impression, but did not know what to do with that impression. Much praise should be directed to the leader, Duncan Riddell, who gave a soaring duet with viola, strong in texture and rich in tone.

Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 3 in G major, written when Mozart was just 19, is perhaps most famous for its remarkable Adagio, made introspective and haunting with the innovative substitution of a pair of flutes for oboes. The RPO opened promisingly with an emphasis on sound contrasts that, though not revelatory, was appealing. The players here seemed to have a bit more bite than in the Vaughan Williams. Zukerman’s playing was unconvincing. It is quite clear that Zukerman’s technical abilities are undimmed – his exercise of control is as tight as ever and his pianissimi in particular were thrilling. But there was a homogeneity about his tone that simply lacked depth and I was left disappointed by his playing of the Adagio, which can be transcendent, but was instead run-of-the-mill.

Zukerman took up his baton again for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, conducting with score in a performance that was patchy. Zukerman’s balance between the sections seemed overly brass-heavy for my liking, without the delicacy and shade that can give the Allegro a more complex sense of greatness; this reading was all bluster and swagger, conjuring up a tyrant with a third-rate army. The woodwind lacked the force to offer any kind of contrast, though it was clear that they were giving their all and the sound that they did manage to produce was more than satisfactory. In the opening to the Adagio, the playing from the double basses was noticeably even and rich in tone, and I was consistently impressed with the performance of cellist Tim Gill whose playing was absolutely spot on.

Technically, there was little lacking throughout the performance, but the absence of intellectual depth and firm guidance from the podium prevented the concert from reaching its full potential, though judging by the warm acclaim at the end, others felt differently.

***11