The headline at the San Diego Symphony said, “Zukerman plays Tchaikovsky.” While that was true in fact it was untrue in essence at the concert on Saturday, February 3.
Pinchas Zukerman did play Tchaikovsky but it wasn’t the legendary violin concerto. No. Zukerman played a sleepy excerpt from Mélodie, No. 3 from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42 (Arr. Glazunov) and then a piece entitled “Melancholic Serenade”. The official title is Sérénade mélancolique, Op. 26.
The effect of these two pieces was to start the concert with appetizers begging for a certain zest. I’ll just say it. They needed salt. A lot of salt. Maybe even the epic pink salt of the Himalayas. Is there a more grandiose product than Himalayan salt? I mean, it’s just salt. Right?
Yet if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? This ancient rhetorical question should need no answering but just in case, the answer is that it can’t be made salty again. You’ve lost it. It’s over.
Tchaikovsky String Serenade with no conductor
As unpopular as this may sound, Mr Zukerman is losing his saltiness when it comes to playing the violin. At least it seemed so on this evening. As with Itzhak Perlman’s appearance with the San Diego Symphony, Zukerman offered music which was severely limited in scale and had no furiatura, that is, fast notes
While we might be expected to appreciate the legato and tone of Zukerman's playing, and I did. We might also expect the virtuosic Zukerman to make an appearance as well. Especially if the headline reads “Zukerman plays Tchaikovsky.”
Following the soporific duo which started the concert was Tchaikovsky’s String Serenade. This was famously written at the same time as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Of the two, Tchaikovsky expected the overture to live for about a week and the String Serenade to live forever. Perhaps he overestimated the human spirit just a bit.
The String Serenade is a legitimate masterpiece but one which could be played to considerable effect without a conductor. I’m being a bit dickish but the first half of the concert could have existed without Zukerman even being there.
But what do I know? I wasn’t at the rehearsals. Perhaps the process of working on the repertoire with a master of Zukerman’s status was highly beneficial for the orchestra.
Our friend Ludwig Wittgenstein said in a collection of his essays entitled Art and Culture, “Mendelssohn is Brahms, without the rigour.”
With that in mind, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4: Italian was the second half of the program. The outer movements have plenty of rigor but the inner two movements kind of supported Wittgenstein’s salty opinion.
The orchestra provided plenty of rigor as did Maestro Zukerman in the role of conductor. However, the pre-intermission sections of the concert were limited in scope, and Mendelssohn’s lovely but brief excursion to Italy did nothing to balance that out. Put two and two together and you get a concert which was limited in scope from start to finish.
The last time Zukerman played and conducted it was a similar concert with Zukerman playing a short Bach concerto and then conducting Richard Strauss' Metamorphosis for 23 solo strings and Mozart's Haffner Symphony along with his wife playing the Schumann Cello Concerto. That was a full concert.
I want to make it clear that I was disappointed in the programing of the concert not the performance of the San Diego Symphony. They delivered but there was precious little to deliver.
The orchestra strings were beautiful in the String Serenade. I could hardly wish for a finer performance. I’ll take a moment to remind everyone that Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is coming up on May 12. Based on what I heard in the Tchaikovsky, the Barber is going to be special.