Violin aficionados don't flock to Pinchas Zukerman's recitals to be blown away by flashy bowing, heart-on-the-sleeve drama or radical deconstructions of thrice-familiar classics. They go to experience some of the most pristine technique and honest musicianship to be heard anywhere.
In his recital of sonatas by Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms with pianist Yefim Bronfman at Disney Hall on Friday, it was gratifying to hear that Zukerman's playing hasn't lost its characteristic sound after more than 40 years of a career divided among the competing demands of conducting, teaching and playing as a string soloist and chamber musician.
FOR THE RECORD:
Violin recital: A review in the April 6 Calendar section of a recital by violinist Pinchas Zukerman with pianist Yefim Bronfman at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday misspelled Zukerman's name as Zuckerman. —
There in spades was his sweetly penetrating tone, elegant chording, spot-on intonation, seamless sense of musical line and scrupulous attention to dynamic shading. Ever the nuanced stylist, he also made sure not to over-freight Schubert's A-Minor Violin Sonata, D. 385 (Opus 137, No. 2) with the same intensity he brought to Beethoven's C-Minor Violin Sonata, No. 7 (Opus 30, No. 2).
The Schubert wended its way on a supple current of sound that refused to lose its composure even in the jabbing, wide-interval leaps that appear repeatedly in the opening movement.
In Bronfman, Zukerman found an ideal partner as the pianist contributed a sparkling, clear-eyed reading of the keyboard part that kept well within classical proportions. If the Beethoven registered with more emphatic range, even in that score both musicians made their points not with grandstanding gestures but with contrasts of hushed and forthright tone, a songlike lyricism to their shaping of the melodic line and subtly expressive phrasing that never disturbed the musical architecture.
Equally expert as a violist, Zukerman brought out the larger instrument after intermission to play Brahms' F-Minor Viola Sonata, No. 1 (Opus 120, No. 1) in a manner that emphasized the autumnal glow in this inward-looking late work.
This is one of two works Brahms fashioned as alternative viola versions of a pair of sonatas originally conceived for the clarinet. Those familiar with the clarinet version of this piece might well have missed the uniquely plaintive, melancholic tone that wind instrument can mine in this music. But Zukerman made much of the more sinewy, febrile brand of expression the viola imparts, while characteristically taming the score's mercurial outbursts — even the usually throaty lower strings on the instrument sang out in a mellow way. Bronfman, ever the equal partner rather than mere accompanist, sculpted the piano line expertly to dovetail with Zukerman's playing, allowing the more roiling and explosive writing to register solidly yet without overwhelming.
A single movement from one of Mozart's violin sonatas was the lone encore. Both men played it with such quicksilver grace that one wished room had been found on this fairly brief program to include it in its entirety.
Was there the thrill of new discovery and edge-of-the-seat excitement at Friday's recital? Perhaps not. But the chance to hear these lovely scores played with such unostentatious truthfulness and Olympian tone was more than thrilling enough.
[For the Record, April 7, 12 p.m.: In a previous version of this review, Pinchas Zukerman's last name was mispelled as Zuckerman.]