★★★★★ Zukerman and co give a faultless recital of top-notch chamber music.

Sydney Opera House, Utzon Room
August 16, 2015

It is customary to award five stars for a faultless musical recital, but I wonder whether the rules could be bent in the case of the Zukerman Trio in the latest of the Utzon series at Sydney Opera House.

For if any 90 minutes of top-notch chamber music deserved six stars this must have been it.

With Canadian-based Israeli maestro Pinchus Zukerman’s matchless musicianship and charisma at its core, this is a trio made in heaven. His South African-born wife Amanda Forsyth brings passion and formidable technique as a cellist, and Canadian pianist Angela Cheng is the dream accompanist who lives every note.

Their programme opened with Dvořák’s Four Romantic pieces for violin and piano, and although these pieces were composed for amateurs rather than virtuosi, they have bags of charm.

The simple double stopping of the yearning larghetto which closes the set showed Zukerman’s delicate control of the bow, as well as his precise intonation.

A change of programme introduced Forsyth to the intimate audience of 200. She and Angela Cheng were originally down to play Schumann’s Three Romances but substituted those for his Adagio and Allegro, Opus 70.

Forsyth explained that this could also be played on the horn, although judging from the prodigious runs and rapid bowing of the andante it’s difficult to imagine even the finest exponent of that cruelly difficult instrument pulling it off with ease.

Forsyth is an extrovert performer and brings to the trio a theatrical streak with eye-catching frocks and, for this concert, the hypnotic visual effect of a delicately designed tattoo of gold leaf on her bowing arm with an impressive collection of rings on her fingers.

But Zukerman and his golden tone were the drawcard here and we got it in full measure in the next piece on the programme, Beethoven’s First Violin Sonata. Here Cheng too showed her artistry in the equally demanding piano part, lending a beautifully nuanced partnership with Zuckerman’s 1742 Guarneri ‘del Gesù’ fiddle.

At 67, silver-haired and bespectacled, Zuckerman presents a picture of quiet concentration as he plays. Cheng’s facial expressions, by contrast, provide a visual commentary on what’s happening in the music. Together they are a magical combination.

There was a moment when, at the beginning of the second movement, a child in the front row made a belated re-entry from a restroom stop and the Zuckerman smiled warmly before resuming. 

The recital ended with Dvořák’s irresistible Dumky piano trio with its bipolar swings between richly melodic slow passages and high-octane dance sections.   

As if that wasn’t enough the trio returned for an encore and the swagger and charm of Fritz Kreisler’s Miniature Viennese March sent the audience off into the night.