New double concerto fits Zukerman and Forsyth to a tee

Amanda Forsyth and Pinchas Zukerman. Photos: Cheryl Mazak

On Wednesday, NACO presented the Canadian premiere of a new double concerto for violin and cello by Israeli composer Avner Dorman, written for Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth.

The work was co-commissioned by NACO, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to celebrate Zukerman’s 70th birthday. It received its world premiere in Australia in June and its U.S. premiere with the BSO at Tanglewood in August.

Zukerman isn’t exactly known as a new music champion, but he can be an eloquent supporter when it suits him, and Dorman’s writing — conservative, neo-romantic, strongly melodic — suits his playing very well indeed. Zukerman’s lush, voluptuous sound was complemented by Forsyth’s more aggressive attack and bolder palette (her father’s daughter, she has always been the more passionate and natural advocate of contemporary music in the couple).

Dorman has described the work as a kind of tussle between nostalgia and modernism, but any disagreement is gentle and courteous. Laid out conventionally in three tight movements, the concerto feels more episodic than fully developed, with the pretty themes and short attention span usually found film scores. The whole second movement, with its lilting meter, atmospheric use of pizzicati strings, and procession of sentimental, Piazzola-esque tunes, felt especially cinematic. This normcore concerto isn’t the most exciting piece, but it’s competent, attractively orchestrated and fits Zukerman and Forsyth to a tee. 

Pietari Inkinen is another one of these absurdly talented young Finns taking over the world’s conducting gigs.

Inkinen is known as a Wagner specialist — he’ll be conducting the new Ring production at Bayreuth this summer — so opening the concert with the Prelude to Die Meistersinger was an appropriate choice.

The performance certainly delivered on pomp and nobility. But whenever NACO is compelled to produce that bulkier, darker, more robust echt-German style of playing, the results often end up sounding leaden and slurred and this was the case on Wednesday.

Inkinen’s approach to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was the opposite of many of his peers, with more measured tempi but more extreme emotional contrasts. In particular, the Funeral March had a sense of pathos and grandeur that were practically operatic, anchored by the stern basses. NACO had no trouble generating a prodigiously beautiful, early Romantic sound, with a first-rate horn trio in the Scherzo.

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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.