There were several candidates for top honors on Monday's concert by the English Chamber Orchestra.
First Pinchas Zukerman, who was for many, I suspect, the major draw. Not only did he lend his distinctive solo presence to Hindemith's "Trauermusik" for viola and strings as well as Vivaldi's Concerto in F major for Three Violins; he also conducted both works, along with Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor.For actual time in the solo spot, however, the palm would have to go to Joseph Silverstein, who not only took the second violin part in the Vivaldi but, like Zukerman in the Hindemith, did double duty in the Bach D minor Violin Concerto (reconstructed from the BWV 1052 Harpsichord Concerto).
And the loveliest sound among the soloists? For my money that award goes to the ECO's concertmaster, Jose-Luis Garcia, whose silken tone and easeful execution in the Vivaldi were remarkable for their long-breathed phrasing and naturally singing trills, even in the faster movements. Zukerman, by contrast, seemed to be holding back a little in this concerto, although all three shone to fine effect in the Andante, with its strongly illuminated pizzicato from Silverstein.
Nonetheless top billing went where it was merited, namely to the orchestra. Not only was their playing a marvel of precision and brio, but in the Bach they actually managed to bring more vitality to the outer movements than Silverstein, whose sound here was not ideally focused.
Yet they never overwhelmed even the inward concentration of his sound in the slow movement - which found him at close to his best - thanks to a subtle dynamic gradation that extended even to the playing of harpsichordist Ricklen Nobis (borrowed for the occasion). Nor did they really seem to require Silverstein's aid as a conductor - a good thing, since his contribution in that area was, to say the least, minimal.
Zukerman, by contrast, gave them more in the Hindemith, here plaintive but purposeful and distinguished by his own dark-toned viola solos. (Remarkably the piece itself was turned out on one day's notice to mark the death of George V.)
Likewise the Mozart, whose generally brisk tempos and effortless sheen did not mask its sense of underlying tragedy. Yet accents were light, from the faintly quivering strings at the outset to the rapid articulation of the finale, here vigorous yet airy. At the same time woodwind solos were tellingly highlighted, as were the horns in the comparatively weighty minuet.
The upshot was an interpretation of almost Furtwaenglerian poignancy, as though the music had somehow sprung almost unbidden from Mozart's brain. Yet its understated intensity clearly derived from both orchestra and conductor. As did the winged grace of the encore, the finale from Haydn's Symphony No. 49, "La Passione," which here had plenty of each.