Dull Bruch from Zuk, blazing Bartók from Conlon and New World at Arsht

01.13.19
James Conlon
South Florida Classical Review

A star soloist typically joins New World Symphony when the orchestra crosses the bay and performs at Miami’s Arsht Center.

On Saturday night the star was the violinist Pinchas Zukerman, performing Max Bruch’s much-loved, much-overplayed Violin Concerto No. 1.

Now 70, Zukerman has white hair but walks with the energetic gait of a younger man. His violin technique remains formidable, his bow arm steady, his intonation accurate. He probably scratched a bit more than he did in his prime, and fast passages occasionally came off as an inarticulate smudge. But his tone retained its rich vibrato, without a trace of the warble that creeps into the sounds of colleagues of a similar age.

But he deployed this technique on a concerto that’s performed way too often. Bruch wrote two other fine violin concertos that are almost never played in public. This timid choice of repertory, combined with a performance that often seemed emotionally detached, gave the impression that the great virtuoso was coasting.

He took the Prelude at a deliberate pace, giving a brooding quality to the heavy chords that contrasted to the speed with which he snapped off the runs. The movement leads to a climactic passage in which the violinist’s arpeggios build to an outburst in the orchestra. But as Zukerman played the arpeggios, there wasn’t much dramatic punch.

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The best music-making came in the second half, when Conlon led a performance of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra.

From its eerie opening to the frantic string passages at the end, this was a well-paced, finely calibrated performance of Bartók’s brew of classical music and eastern European folk melodies. Polished and virtually technically flawless, the performance allowed the primitive force at the heart of the concerto to push through the smooth concert-hall veneer.
 
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