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MSO: Flynn Conducts, with Pinchas Zukermann, Violin and Amanda Forsyth, Cello

Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla
Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943)
Mozart: Concerto No. 3 in G Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 216
Brahms: Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 102

Madison Symphony Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman, violin
Amanda Forsyth, cello
Patrick Flynn, conductor


Playing to sell-out audiences Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Symphony Orchestra -- the players, guest conductor Patrick Flynn, violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth -- displayed satisfying enthusiasm, precision and passion.

Glinka's Overture to "Ruslan and Ludmilla" poses few interpretive challenges, but the technical ones are formidable: breakneck tempo and no room for error: the tiniest slip of ensemble would have turned the glitter into glop instantly. The strings simply nailed it, and the wind playing was also superb.

Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943) is a masterpiece too seldom heard. It's two handfuls for everybody, especially the conductor, who must balance very thick textures perfectly to maintain intelligibility. Flynn clearly knew the piece cold. Here too the level of the playing was brilliant, with major percussion parts in addition to winds and strings. Not to slight any other part of the orchestra, Hindemith's writing for brass is a marvel shown to particular advantage in these performances.

Something very good has happened to Pinchas Zukerman since I last heard him. An undeniably great virtuoso, he once seemed fairly detached and too uninvolved in the music. But he has warmed up amazingly, playing Mozart's Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216 with evident affection and enjoyment. My only reservation was the first-movement cadenza, which was too long and in a much later idiom; it did little except delay a return to Mozart. Reduced to 31 strings and six winds, the orchestra and Flynn skillfully realized the score's intimacy and transparency.

Even more intimate was the collaboration between Zukerman and Forsyth in Brahms' Double Concerto in A Minor, Op. 102. The cello part is not for the timid or faint of heart, but Forsyth's playing was so awesomely bold and secure it didn't sound as difficult as it is. More importantly, Brahms gives the cello the leading role in exposing the musical materials, requiring great passion and assertiveness right from the outset. Forsyth delivered that with terrific verve. The violin part is also demanding, of course, but musically the most gratifying elements of the performance were the dialogs between the two solo players, remarkable for their subtlety in all three movements, especially in the Sunday performance.

Audience response was huge and prolonged both times. All concerned can justifiably feel pleased with themselves. The MSO's quality trajectory continues to rise, which is also a good thing.

Isthmus, October, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson

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