Led by principal guest conductor and violinist Pinchas Zukerman, Thursday’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance in Helzberg Hall was a presentation of stalwart repertoire from Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series.
The concert was delayed by half an hour because travel issues prevented all members of the orchestra arriving on time. This also necessitated a programming change, nixing Arnold Schoenberg’s deeply emotive tone poem “Verklärte Nacht” in favor of Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and the addition of Bach’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in a minor, alongside the scheduled Violin Concerto no. 2 in E major.
Whether it was a stylistic choice or caused by the stressful circumstances, the scuttling energy of Mozart’s overture seemed moderated, technically accurate but emotionally subdued,
Zukerman conducting close to his frame.
Likewise, the two concerti were presented with a business-like attitude. Zukerman played the solo part for both, allowing for the contrast of the two works.
He led the orchestra on violin after a brief nod to the audience and a slight up gesture to the ensemble to begin. In Concerto no.1 the solo role was contextual within the orchestra, becoming more pronounced with each movement. A ruminative solo line over dignified accompaniment wove through the Andante, Zukerman beautifully balancing the pianissimo moments. The third movement offered more ornamental flourishes atop longer running lines.
Concerto no. 2 was more virtuosic and assertive, Zukerman’s gestures an extension of his bowing. The stress and growth of the phrases were marked by insistent repeated figures, a sustained tone gave way to an impassioned melody and an emphatic, busy line challenged the agility of his fingers.
The concert concluded as scheduled with Beethoven’s socially embedded and ever-popular Symphony No. 5 in c minor, in a superlative performance from the ensemble. The efficient, almost brusque treatment of the first portion dissolved as the ubiquitous motif was made endlessly exciting with sustained and transferred energies.
Zukerman conducted far bolder here, eliciting a nice edge in the brass timbres, a graceful, lilting melody of the second movement, the enigmatic pizzicato/staccato theme of the third, the transition blossoming into the final movement, robust and inspiring.
Beethoven’s delayed cadence, with a zing from flute, made it seem as though he didn’t want the fun to end. The ensemble performed it that way, too, meriting a standing ovation, multiple curtain calls, woots and whistles from an appreciative audience.