Sizzling Zukerman; murky 'Macbeth'; spunky Carole King
The bad news is that this season's Boston University Celebrity Series is half over. The good news is that two of last weekend's three offerings show why it remains this town's premiere musical cultural institution (as far as attracting outside talent) - and why a glance down the list of what's to come might be a good idea. (Sneak preview: Yo-Yo Ma, Alfred Brendel, Annie Fischer, Alvin Ailey, the Juilliard String Quartet.)
Pinchas Zuk-erman and his St. Paul Chamber Orchestra veritably sizzled through its all-Beethoven fare Sunday afternoon (''Creatures of Prometheus,'' Symphony No. 2, and Violin Concerto in D major). Beyond listening to this group's burgeoning professionalism, watching the St. Paul is becoming something more of a delight each year. Since Mr. Zukerman is not only music director, but conductor and (in the violin concerto) soloist as well, there is something of a sleight of hand, head, feet, and bow act going on. That means that as Zukerman clasps the violin with his chin, he directs with his bow. And when he wheels 180 degrees to launch into some of the most devilish arpeggios and cadenzas imaginable, he all the while gestures back to his orchestra when to enter and exit the performance. Signals include stomps of his right foot, shakes of the head, and winking eyes.
Since Zukerman need not compromise his musical vision with that of any other conductor, the Beethoven was uncommonly integrated and seamless. (And we have much to compare it to this season alone, most notably Henryk Szeryng and Gidon Kremer). His solo playing Sunday ranked with the best I've ever heard in terms of sheer technical virtuosity, expressive ability, and confidence.
Later the same night, Italian Wunderkind Maurizio Pollini bowled the house over with another all-Beethoven program (Sonatas 25 and 27 and 33 variations on a waltz by Diabelli in C major).
Mr. Pollini began his career as the world's reigning speed demon. Each season he matures to give the audience more music and less fireworks for fireworks' sake. His Sunday performance mirrored that mellowing process. He lit into his first sonata with a breakneck speed that seemed to startle even him. Miraculously, he finished at the same pace, much to the music's detriment. After that, however, Sonata No. 27 and the Diabelli variations were as dynamically rich and technically superb as we are ever likely to hear.