MUSIC REVIEW : Zukerman: Effortlessly Authoritative

The difference between effortlessness and coasting is a fine line for a musical performer, a line skirted by Pinchas Zukerman Tuesday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion but never crossed. Listeners could be thankful.

With composer-pianist Marc Neikrug as a model second, the 46-year-old violinist-violist offered a recital remarkable for the ease of both its execution and musicianship. Tuesday, Zukerman's playing showed the knowing simplicity of a veteran performer.

Nowhere was this more evident than in his traversal of Brahms' Viola Sonata, Opus 120, No. 1. Coming at the end of the program, after an evening of violin music, the instrumental switch alone made a delicate but startling impression. Then there was the economy of Zukerman's dispatch, which seemed a perfect match for the composer's. There was no overstatement, no sweaty drama, no soloistic saccharine; just clarity, warmth and poise and the proper attention to each passing phrase--the proper weight, curve and tempo. There was Zen in its calm authority.

On violin, he opened with Mozart's little Sonata, K. 305, in a cheerful and supple reading, and served up Brahms' "Sonatensatz" after intermission with unforced heroics. Unlike many a lonely violinist in this big hall, he had no problem being heard, his focused tone projecting readily.

As the centerpiece, Zukerman gave the West Coast premiere of Neikrug's Sonata Concertante (1994). In four sections and 20 minutes, Neikrug's music captures its descriptive movement titles, but not too literally. We hear, rather, the suggestion of a march, the suggestion of blues, as drawn in the composer's own modernistic vocabulary. There are tone clusters--used with starry-sky, mystical effect--jagged impulses, unsettled dialogue and nervous tensions. The music can be fairly abrasive.

But, above all, it shows a willingness to communicate, a clarity and drama informed by a composer-performer's knowledge of his audience and his soloist. The duo gave it a clean and committed account, although one could imagine a keener emotional edge. The quietly graceful encores were Schumann's Intermezzo and a Romantic Piece (No. 3) by Dvorak.

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