A Favorite Soloist Joins Sawallisch At Academy

Posted: April 25, 1998

Hearing violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann play is like visiting Greenwich Royal Observatory. Greenwich pinpoints exact placement on Earth; Zimmermann hums a standard of intonation no less perfect.

The German violinist has been a regular since Wolfgang Sawallisch became music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and in Sawallisch's return yesterday to the podium at the Academy of Music, Zimmermann was there to play Britten's too rarely heard Concerto.

In this introverted piece, Britten sampled the violin's full expressive capacity. He frequently matched the solo violin with an improbable mate - tuba, timpani, among them - and those pairings make an enormous effect if the pitch is exact. Zimmermann's centered intonation allowed his sound to float at pianissimo above big orchestral events and sensitive wisps of instrumental sound.

Harmonics both warmed and frosted harmonies as the soloist moved through the moods and rhythmic evolutions of the piece. Britten evokes music of several countries in this piece, but nothing is more dramatic than the meditative dwelling on a single note, raising its pitch a little, lowering it a little as if expanding the width of the note itself. In Zimmermann's hands, that gesture took on emotional weight as well as musical substance.

The orchestra rose to match the soloist's refined sense of sound and clarity. Oboe and flute soloists led the way in a performance that had the air of eager exploration rather than finality.

Sawallisch began this concert with one of his rare approaches to American music. The Barber Symphony No. 1, a terse, often densely layered single movement, clearly caught the conductor's attention in ways that some of the other American pieces he has tried have not. He underlined key musical ideas, brightened and shaded elements to shape a coherent and dramatic performance.

The Barber celebrates single instruments and groups within sections, calling up colors in bold splashes. Sawallisch pressed the orchestra to rhythmic exactness on the way to realizing the music's wide expressive range.

After all that, the Beethoven Symphony No. 7 might have turned the concert conventional, but Sawallisch refined balances and chose tempos to keep every part of the music buoyant.

THE PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA Wolfgang Sawallisch, conducting; Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin soloist. Performed Friday at the Academy of Music.

Additional performances: Tonight at the Academy of Music. Tickets are $12 to $78. Information: 215-893-1999.

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