Pinchas Zukerman made a grand finale to his residency in Week III of the Winter Festival with a program that featured Johann Sebastian Bach and Arnold Schoenberg with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony to send us into the sunset in a brilliant blaze. The programs this year have been enlightening, and enlightenment is most welcome.
Bach himself was a virtuoso on violin, as well as on organ, and the scintillation of the harpsichord combined with the brilliance of the violin solo in Violin Concerto Number Two in E Major, BWV 1042. Maestro Zukerman held the audience spellbound and made a spiritual continuous line from Bach across three centuries, from Vienna to New Jersey. The Allegro was sparkling and achingly beautiful while the Adagio made a sinuous line in the violin solo, in contrast to the quick decay of the harpsichord’s plucked notes. The violin was a fluid and beautiful expansion of the theme. The Allegro assai was joyously triumphant with Maestro Zukerman’s fingers flying in a dexterous dance with the strings.
Next up was Schoenberg’s “Verklarte Nacht” (Transfigured Night), Opus Four, in the orchestrated version from 1943. This is a tuneful, Romantic-era sense of Schoenberg, based on the Richard Dehmel poem. Dehmel was a forester’s son, who became a very popular pre-World War One poet, whose work was frequently adapted by composers. This particular work evocatively depicts a midnight stroll of a couple in love. Broad and dramatic with a more robust string section, it is unexpected Romanticism from the champion of 12-tone. Modern harmonies set up a sense of film noir foreboding and yet we still feel the romance of the night, the moon through the trees and the deep conversation with a surprising resolution of kindness and love. After the noir, there is a sense of hope and starlight. Maestro Zukerman conducted the original NJSO premiere in the 1992-93 season.
Beethoven’s “Eroica,” Symphony Number Three in E-flat Major, Opus 55 was a thrilling way to bring the Winter Festival to a close. Originally dedicating it to Napoleon, when he was chancellor, Beethoven became bitterly disillusioned, when Napoleon declared himself emperor. Beethoven is said to have shredded his original dedication page, saddened by Napoleon’s feet of clay. The music is thrilling, nonetheless, with the beautifully crafted and aptly named Allegro con brio movement full of martial fervor. The Marcia funebre: Adagio assai is somber with great emotion and pathos. The Scherzo: Allegro vivace brings us up again with heraldry in the horns, and the Finale: Allegro molto where after the beginning there is a tiptoe of strings and flute, then violins ultimately building in complexity, where an almost Russian passage seems to recall as past campaign. There is a sense of motion that feels like a montage of recollection of the nameless hero’s life. The triumphant build changes to something more evocative in the statement of the oboe, then picked up by the strings to become a waltz, then the horns build and, after a pause, the orchestra is dashing off to the dazzling finale—“Eroica” indeed.
The season is just beginning and you won’t want to miss a moment. Music Director Xian Xhang is coming! Book your tickets now at www.njsymphony.org