Review: Zukerman Chamber Players

First published in The Herald on 29 August, 2013

Zukerman Chamber Players
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Israeli violinist/violist/conductor Pinchas Zukerman founded his roving Chamber Players about a decade ago with musicians from the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, where he is music director. One of these musicians (the marketing blurb calls them his ‘protégés’, which seems a tad demeaning) is NACO principal cellist and Zukerman’s wife, Amanda Forsyth. And for the centrepiece of their Queen’s Hall recital, Zukerman and Forsyth played Kodaly’s Duo for violin and cello – a passionate, folk-infused work whose thick-set Hungarian themes and fiery temper suited the big, burnished sound that they make together. It was by far the highlight of the morning.

The concert opened with Beethoven’s pithy Piano Trio in B-flat, a single-movement tidbit in which pianist Angela Cheng supported the heavy strings with clear and elegant gestures. After the interval we heard a single work: Mendelssohn’s great D-minor Piano Trio, delivered with fleshy textures and a schmaltzy, vibrato-saturated Andante. This was Mendelssohn played at his most saccharine, and the outer movements lacked enough grit to provide any antidote.

The previous evening Zukerman had played Bruch’s First Violin Concerto with the RSNO in a brazenly self-indulgent performance. As concerto soloist he hadn’t seemed to listen much to the orchestra at all; in chamber mode he led his fellow musicians with more sensitivity, but there were still passages of G-string vibrato overdose (his burly low register is his best asset and he uses it liberally), still a blasé gracelessness in his gratuitous slides, his abrupt, bulging phrase endings, and in the fact that his sound is always the dominant one in an ensemble texture.