Arts & Events

Pinchas Zukerman and Angela Cheng Play Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Monday February 27, 2017 - 01:28:00 PM

On Saturday evening, February 25, at Herbst Theatre, noted violinist Pinchas Zukerman teamed up with Canadian-born pianist Angela Cheng in a program of sonatas for violin and piano by Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. This concert, staged by Chamber Music San Francisco, offered Mozart’s Violin Sonata in G Major, K. 301, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in E flat, Op. 12, No. 3, and two pieces by Brahms – the brief Sonatensatz (Scherzo) in C minor, and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor. In 2009, at the invitation of Pinchas Zukerman, Angela Cheng joined the Zukerman Chamber Players in touring Europe and Asia. Since that time, Ms. Cheng has also been a member of the Zukerman Trio, which includes cellist Amanda Forsyth. 

Opening Saturday’s program was Mozart’s G Major Violin Sonata, one of six he composed between Mannheim and Paris in 1778-9. Consisting of two movements, an Allegro con spirito and an Allegro, this violin sonata features stellar interplay between violin and piano, each taking turns introducing and/or developing musical themes. Eric Blom notes of these violin sonatas that “These six works show that surprising maturity in a young man of twenty-two which one notices his music reflects very strikingly at the time of his falling in love with Aloysia {Weber) and the death of his mother.”  

Next on the program was Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in E flat, Op. 12, No. 3, which was one of three violin sonatas the composer dedicated to Antonio Salieri, with whom Beethoven studied dramatic and vocal composition around 1797-8 in Vienna. Marking a turn toward a more revolutionary style, these three violin sonatas were harshly received when they first appeared. Reviewers in the Allgemeine musicalische Zeitung criticized “a forced attempt at strange modulations, an aversion to the conventional key relations, a piling up of difficulty upon difficulty.” This said, Pinchas Zukerman and Angela Cheng handled the difficulties of the E flat Violin Sonata with aplomb. The third and final movement, a Rondo, was particularly inspiring.  

After intermission, Zukerman and Cheng returned to perform two works by Johannes Brahms. First came the Sonatensatz (Scherzo) in C minor, an early work by Brahms which was briskly dispatched in a spirited collaboration. Next came the Violin Sonata in D minor by Brahms, one of the composer’s late works. An Allegro opens this piece assertively, followed by an Adagio that establishes a sunny, happy outlook. A third movement, marked Un poco presto e con sentimento, features elaborate interplay between the violin and piano, elegantly performed by Zukerman and Cheng. The fourth and final movement, marked Presto agitato, offers a stormy, dark and brooding intensity, fiercely played by Zukerman and Cheng. The audience responded warmly to the virtuosic display of these two fine musicians, who responded with an encore of Maria-Theresa von Paradis’s Sicilienne, a lovely, lilting piece that effectively lightened the mood after the more strenuous and often difficult music by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.