Pinchas Zukerman was music director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1980 to 1987. He has not conducted them in almost 15 years. But he returned to lead the ensemble in a concert to benefit the locked-out musicians on Sunday afternoon at Wayzata Community Church. The sold-out crowd greeted the musicians with cheers and several extended standing ovations.
The all-Mozart program might have seemed overly familiar, but the musicians carry this music in their souls, and they gave sparkling performances.
The highlight was Zukerman conducting and soloing in the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major. The solo violin's rhapsodic entrance after the orchestra's sprightly opening was magical, as was the virtuosic cadenza at the end of the movement.
Zukerman played with more of a dry, astringent sound than is usual, which gave the work a sharper edge that really perked up the ears. He was nonetheless able to bring out all the sensuousness and melancholy in the Adagio.
The minuet theme, the refrain of the extended Rondo finale, was played with elegance and joie de vivre. Throughout, Zukerman seemed to maintain an almost telepathic connection with the orchestra, leading to an emotionally committed and completely engaging performance.
The Symphony No. 41 in C major is Mozart's last and, arguably, his greatest symphony. Zukerman led a dramatic, even heroic, reading. In the opening Allegro vivace, the musicians played with an intensity that made the climax sound like a Romantic composition, all the while maintaining the clean string sound representative of a Classical one. The color and warmth of the winds was also exceptionally effective.
The slow movement had a dark, dramatically melancholy feel that showed off the orchestra's legato playing. The Menuetto third movement was played with a dashing sophistication and wit, recalling Mozart's mentor, Haydn.
The precision of the finale gave a special clarity to the rich contrapuntal writing, without stinting the depth of feeling. It built to a luminous conclusion.
The concert opened with a fresh and unhackneyed reading of the Overture to the opera "Marriage of Figaro." The joyous interplay of the instruments, and the subtle shifts in dynamics, along with the enthusiastic execution reminded what a magnificent ensemble these musicians truly are.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.