Zukerman, Royal Philharmonic shine in Bruch and Brahms

By David Fleshler

Pinchas Zukerman conducted and performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Tuesday night at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.

The ground floor at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was packed Tuesday evening, a vast improvement over the mediocre houses that had greeted the center’s worthy series of classical musicians over the past two years.

The crowd came to Fort Lauderdale to hear Pinchas Zukerman conduct and solo with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in a concert that demonstrated that Zukerman, at 63, still stands with the world top violinists. Zukerman played and conducted Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, giving what may be South Florida’s finest performance in years of this overplayed work. Zukerman and the Royal Philharmonic next travel up the road to the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach for concerts Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon.

For the concerto, the podium was removed and Zukerman stood in front of the orchestra to conduct and perform. Like a tenor who occasional takes on baritone roles, Zukerman has a dark tone that had made him an ideal performer on his second instrument, the viola. He drew rich, throaty sounds from the violin’s lowest string, and his tone never turned thin as he ascended up the highest string. He gave a stately and dramatic account of the first movement, playing the broad chords and arpeggios in a resonant and unhurried manner that didn’t try to turn the concerto into a whirlwind of virtuosity. He displayed a rock-solid technique in the rollicking final movement.

Despite its grandiose name, the London-based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is younger than most major American orchestras and by no means preeminent among British ones. But it is a highly capable ensemble with strong, agile playing in all sections and a vivid, often sumptuous tone.

The concert opened with Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, with Zukerman leading an unapologetically symphonic performance, a big, enthusiastic account with an ensemble that looked large enough for Wagner.

After intermission, came Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. In this darkest of the Brahms symphonies, Zukerman took a brisk approach that emphasized momentum over weight. The climax toward the end of the first movement was more subdued than usual, with Zukerman’s approach yielding a more somber, less fiery account.

The second movement showed off the orchestra’s strings, with warm yet graceful playing in the violins and violas. The third movement was fast and energetic and the finale, a grim set of variations, charged forward, with dark, restless playing in the violins and a superb bleakly expressive flute solo. Apart from some initial ensemble uncertainty, the winds and brass gave a sonorous account of the chords that form the base of the movement.

Having an English orchestra in town without any English music would seem odd, and as an encore, the orchestra performed the “Nimrod” section of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a glowing performance that was less monumental and more intimate than typical interpretations of this famous movement.

Pinchas Zukerman and the Royal Philharmonic repeat the program 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach and play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Elgar’s Enigma Variations Thursday at 2 p.m. kravis.org, 561-832-7469.

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Wed Jan 4, 2012
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