Few classical performers are as loved by Chicago audiences as violinist Pinchas Zukerman, and it's no surprise that his frequent appearances here since his 1970 debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are matched only by those of his friends Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma.

Zukerman's recording of Alban Berg's Violin Concerto with Pierre Boulez and the London Symphony Orchestra ranks among the finest for its lucidity and profoundly gloomy introspection. But, alas, the performance with the CSO, under the direction of Lawrence Foster, didn't measure up. The shortcomings weren't Zukerman's. He played with an ethereal delicacy that heightened the melancholia, and he handled the cadenzas and other solo passages in the second movement with white-heat intensity. The harmonized exchanges between the violin and the winds—between Berg and Bach—toward the end were done exquisitely.

Berg had intended the concerto—his last work—to be a requiem for the teenage daughter of a dear friend, but he seemed to have anticipated it as his own, a history—dotted with private references—of his emotional life from first love to last. One of its marvels, of course, is the way he used the newfangled, modernist technique of the "12-tone row" to convey fresh expressions of angst, resignation, pleasure and pain. But, as critic-composer Virgil Thomson once said, "the constant recurrence of this easily noticed progression [of a circle of fifths] brings some monotony to the texture."

Monotony and lethargy plagued Foster's approach to the work. While the brass and wind sections had exemplary moments, the strings—with the cellos and basses situated stage left amid the violins and not at the edge of stage right as usual—sounded heavy and dull. The overall pace set by Foster was too deliberate thus turning the final march to transcendence into a stroll into oblivion.

Foster seemed to have put more thought into the performance of Symphony in C-Major by Paul Dukas, whose posthumous fame rests on "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which accompanied Mickey Mouse's mischief in the movie "Fantasia." The symphony, rarely revived, has its champions. And, indeed, it recalls Saint-Saens in its suavity, Tchaikovsky in its colorful orchestration and Franck in its swaying melody. The andante has been compared to Bruckner, but it's nowhere as obsessive—a long babbling brook of sounds that surges to an unconvincing climax. Still, Foster had the right brass section to accentuate its piquant sonic effects, and his emphasis on surface brilliance brought out the symphony's essential charms.

The concert opener was the Overture to Cherubini's "Fidelio"-like opera "Lodoiska." It was given a sturdy reading that unfolded with stately grace and ended in dramatic flourishes.

The program will be repeated Saturday. Call 312-294-3000.