"This is not my night," said Pinchas Zukerman on Wednesday at the Kimmel Center after forgetting his violin mute, dropping his music a few times, and eventually sending it sailing out into the audience.
Actually, the night was somewhat his, maybe not the greatest of his performing life but certainly an inviting, infrequent opportunity to encounter this durable, charismatic 64-year-old violinist in chamber music repertoire. Hearing his lustrous tone in higher relief without full orchestra was entrancing unto itself at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert, especially in the Kimmel Center's acoustically intimate Perelman Theater.
Kodaly's Duo for Violin and Cello (Op. 7), a tour de force in any performance of technical virtuosity that's also littered with idiosyncratic folksiness, was just Zukerman and his cellist wife, Amanda Forsythe. The piece isn't often encountered, especially in a performance where the two play so well off each other but also have a competitive edge.
Zukerman imposed himself a bit much with his full-bodied sound and probably knows better than to do so in chamber music, but seemed to issue a challenge to his colleagues. Forsythe, who is principal cellist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra and commands an equally formidable sound, met him at every turn.
In the Mendelssohn Piano Trio (Op. 49), they were joined by pianist Angela Cheng, who was overshadowed at times, though any time she had a good solo, a cultivated (though somewhat technically fallible) level of artistry emerged and was even part of the thrills when the final movement came off with pinpoint unanimity.
Beethoven, Brahms, and Shostakovich would provide a more appropriate, bigger personality platform for these musicians. Instead, Zukerman and Co. lavished their time on Beethoven's so-called "Eyeglass Duo" for viola and cello (a very minor piece) and Bach's Viola da Gamba Sonata in G major, played not on the gamba and harpsichord for which the music was written, but modern viola and piano. Much performance energy went into scaling back their sound. Only the slow movement allowed Zukerman to be Zukerman.
What might've been a sentimental indulgence was one of the concert's best moments. As an encore, the trio played (with Zukerman on viola) In Perfect Harmony, a work one Malcolm Forsythe (Amanda's father) wrote for their 2004 wedding. Based on a simple two–note motif, the music moves with great clarity. Everybody took the title to heart: No competitive music-making here.