Ailing Mehta Returns to Give Strong Brahms Performances

By Truman C. Wang

In the first concerts the new year (January 4, 5), Zubin Mehta, still ailing in body but very much alert in spirits, gave hugely vital accounts of Brahms Symphonies No. 3 and 4.  The LA Phil players, if it was possible, sounded even more fresh and glorious than in December.  The euphonious winds in the Third Symphony’s third movement, Poco allegretto, were super fine, while the coda of the second movement Andante ravished the ears with mellifluous horns and a radiant choir of strings.  The Fourth Symphony’s third movement Scherzo was playful and perfectly giocoso.  In Mehta’s reading, one sensed the age-old romantic view of Brahms, but also exhilarating vigor (in the outer Allegro movements) with finely judged rubatos and dynamics. 

In these concerts, Brahms and Mehta proved to be two natural bedfellows.  Make that four – with Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth. 

Zukerman was the soloist in the Violin Concerto.  From his first solo entry there was evidence of abundant temperament and passion.  Playing with his customary ringing tone and clear, polished delivery, Zuckerman gave care and thought to the shaping of each phrase. This is especially apparent in his account of the cadenza, finely paced (well-placed dramatic pauses giving an effect of improvisation) and precisely characterized. Under Mehta’s fluid baton, the orchestra sounded bright and resplendent in the great D major tuttis of the outer movements and each melodic line was lovingly shaped to bring out its full expressive potential.  Marion Kuszyk’s oboe solo in the Adagio was meltingly beautiful. 

Cellist Amanda Forsyth joined Zukerman in a very fine reading of the Double Concerto.  Even more than her partner, Ms. Forsyth displayed a marvelous air of spontaneity, seeming to inhabit the music as she played it.   Together, they put their considerable chamber-music experience to great use in Brahms’ final orchestral work.  The playing showed a wide range of color, not only from the two soloists, but also from the orchestra.

These concerts firmly cemented Zubin Mehta’s legacy in Los Angeles as a Brahms conductor par excellence.  Bravo maestro!

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily. He studied Integrative Biology and Music at U.C. Berkeley.