This, the second concert of the Pinchas Zukerman-led Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Summer Music Festival, found him launching boldly into Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ Symphony in a style that made it larger in scale than usual. The RPO, with only slightly reduced string strength, showed that a modern-orchestra approach can reveal the music’s true nature no less effectively than a ‘period’ performance. Zukerman took unhurried speeds; the first movement sounded majestic and the following Andante was warm and expressive. No repeats in the opening Allegro con spirito (they got lost when the music was reset from a Serenade to the familiar Symphony and only a few conductors restore them), therefore omission of those in the Andante makes structural sense. Less convincing was the loss of the last two notes of the Minuet, not just at the end but also before the Trio. I have found the offending early fermata mark that causes this only in the 1970 Bärenreiter score – earlier editions are free of it. Zukerman provided stylish long grace-notes in the Trio (many conductors don’t) and the Finale, given a little more weight than usual, provided an exciting experience.
Classical stylishness was also in evidence in Fumiaki Miura’s interpretation of Mendelssohn’s E-minor Violin Concerto. His 1748 Guadagnini violin has a mellow quality that suits affectionate phrasing and the instrument is notably brilliant in the upper register: ideal for Mendelssohn’s many high-lying melodies. Miura featured subtle use of dynamics but he never imposed tempo changes beyond those suggested by the score, and the acceleration towards the close of the first movement was brought off superbly, underlining the rapport between soloist and conductor. Miura enhanced the Andante by intensifying vibrato, and the Finale was joyous, Zukerman giving winds and timpani their head. As a bonus Miura played with amazing talent part of Variations on The Last Rose of Summer by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1812-65), a humorous and tuneful showpiece involving terrifyingly difficult left-hand pizzicatos.
Zukerman led Serenata notturna from the first desk of the quartet (the second violin being Miura, viola, Abigail Fenna, and double bass, David Gordon) which Mozart sets against strings and timpani, here a substantial contrast, and notable for an extremely rapid Finale. The ‘Linz’ Symphony, given a broad reading, displayed powerful impetus, the strings very strong without overpowering the woodwinds. The outer movements (both given their exposition repeat) conveyed grandeur, and there was an ideal tempo for the Minuet, although I’d have preferred it not to end so languidly. A feature was the effectiveness of the brass-and-timpani moments which made a great impact, as did the whirling violins near the close.