Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Twin peaks

When does sheer virtuosity become its own reward? That was the question lingering over Sunday's Celebrity Series appearance by violinist Pinchas Zukerman and pianist Yefim Bronfman.  It was a concert marked by no real artistic statement - the two virtuosi, in fact, seemed to orbit each other rather than connect, each quietly locked in his own pursuit of excellence.  And neither was particularly interested in the niceties of historically-sensitive modes of interpretation, either - their Mozart sounded a lot like their Beethoven, which sounded a lot like their Brahms; a century of stylistic development was as nothing to this pair.

And yet the concert was wonderful anyway - a long, enveloping stretch of sensitively-rendered beauty that seemed to caress the listener, melting away the worries and weariness of the world (as well as any attendant intellectual aesthetic quibbles).  It was the kind of concert you found yourself wishing all your friends could hear, too.  This is as fine as musicianship can be, this duo seemed to demonstrate.  What else is there, really, to say?

Well, maybe not much, but I'll try to say something.  The concert at times had almost an off-hand air - pieces began without much ado, and at one point the two left the stage in search of Zukerman's music.  Still, things never felt exactly relaxed, either.  Bronfman is a reserved presence, Zukerman perhaps more self-absorbed - if that subtlety amounts to much.  Bronfman's touch is cushioned but utterly precise, and hints at colors and modes you'd most identify with the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Zukerman, by way of contrast, plays with a lighter attack that floats over burnished depths of feeling- his is not a resolutely "singing" tone; instead one senses in his interpreations a flexible, yet serious, musical intelligence that might be most at home in Beethoven.

So it was no surprise that the great Ludwig van's "Spring" Sonata, (No. 5, Opus 24)  was the high point of the concert - or rather, the highest point of a performance that operated consistently at an elevated plane.  The sonata was not as bubbly as it has sometimes been played - this was an adult reading, in which autumn and winter were not entirely forgotten, and the landscape was lit by occasional flashes of lightning (particularly from Zukerman, who took the lead). Mozart’s B-flat Major Sonata (K. 454) was likewise given a studied, but lovely, reading - it sounded a bit like Beethoven playing Mozart, but ya know - that ain't bad. The concert proper wrapped with Brahms's E-Flat Major Sonata ( Op. 120), originally for piano and clarinet, with Zukerman switching to viola for the woodwind role.   Here Bronfman was more prominent, and the piece came off beautifully - but it seemed, after the Beethoven, like a bit of an anticlimax.  The duo offered only a single encore, Schumann's “Märchenbilder,’’ (Op. 113), which actually burned with a bit more fire than the Brahms - and with that, the concert was over. Even though I'm sure the crowd would have been happy to sit and listen for hours.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Thanksgiving. We, in Canada, have been giving thanks for many years to have had the pleasure of hosting Pinchas Zukerman. He is smart, funny, and amazingly talented. One of my top fantasy dinner guests.