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20.4.07

Tetzlaff & Bĕlohlávek in Mozart and a Janáček Delight

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Janáček (et al.), Violin Concerto, Tetzlaff / Philharmonia Orchestra
Christian Tetzlaff, who performs in the National Symphony Orchestra’s current run of concerts, is easily thrown into the category of “intellectual violinist” where he resides among other notables such as Frank Peter Zimmerman, or Thomas Zehetmair. One might say that they are the last exponents of the “German School” of violinism - although that distinction among national lines is hardly possible anymore when, technically, there exist but different variations on the “Russian School” these days. But what Tetzlaff and the others mentioned – include Julia Fischer among them, if you wish – are decidedly not, are the “Gypsy fiddler” type whose fierce temperament will break through in every work they touch. Rather, their approach tends to be cool, executed with superior skill, calculated musicality, and little exaggeration. Technical difficulties don’t seem to exist – and it is in part the ease with which they can play their repertoire that some might get the impression of less than 100% involvement.

That wasn’t the impression Tetzlaff left in Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto on Thursday night. It’s already not a work known for its intellectually probing qualities… but rather its youthful, lighthearted nature with an almost carelessly treated abundance of genius. With the Czech conductor Jiří Bĕlohlávek leading the NSO, Christian Tetzlaff played with an abandon and straining for heat as if to fight the above stereotype. I found the opening Allegro surprisingly unsuccessful – with notes and phrases going awry for excess of vigor and digging into the instrument and music. If the Adagio wasn’t stereotypically ‘brainy’ either, it was less ‘out of character’ and displayed some well suited restraint. But it wasn’t until the Rondeau: Allegro that Tetzlaff hit his stride. With ease and agility, accuracy and a light enough touch he fiddled away without going for more than the music could deliver. That’s not to say that he went quietly into the night (for once, he was to return in the second half) and earned warm applause from a Concert Hall well filled with regular patrons and busloads of students. (That many of the latter applauded the first movement went on to show that instinct often knows better where the composer wanted appreciation shown than does stuffy tradition.)

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Janáček - Edinger


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Janáček - Zehetmair


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Janáček - Skride
Back for duty, Tetzlaff presented Janáček’s Violin Concerto “Pilgrimage of the Soul”. Not reconstructed from sketches (found on the back of the score of the opera “From the House of the Dead”) until 1988, it is a relative rarity and a first in concert performance to these ears. It turned out a most delightful discovery. Stark and naked in the opening with the violin accompanied by timpani alone. The soloist then rarely stops in a wild ride as a chorus of brass enters, winds squabble away in the background, harps plucking along. The concerto has drive and energy to spare, enough dissonance to scare away those who had come for Mozart, and of such challenging beauty as to fascinate the “finer ears”. It is brief, too (five connected movements lasting about 12 minutes), which, much like in writing, is more likely a virtue than detriment.

I heard all kinds of exciting new things – too many to really assign labels, though “Stravinsky” came to mind more than once. Its fluctuating and audacious moods toy with the listener – and writing these lines I am now reminded of Schnittke’s Fourth Violin Concerto, too. Applause came from fewer hands for this work, but that with greater gusto. Rightly so, because Tetzlaff was in high form; his playing a joy to behold.

At its rambunctious best, the concerto is as noisy and gnarly as the orchestral pieces that opened each half: Dvořák’s Othello Overture and Smetana’s Richard III symphonic poem op.11. (Both tributes to the city-wide Shakespeare celebration and the latter, like the Janáček concerto, a NSO premiere.) The orchestral works gave the brass section a workout to which the players responded most capably. Smetana’s Richard III especially was a brooding, Lisztian affair, rambling, but pleasant.

The candy awaited at the end: Vltava (“Die Moldau”) from Má vlast assured that people kept their seat during Janáček. The playing of the NSO here was matched only in the concerto. In the latter by means of an appropriate edge-of-the-seat quality, in the former through comfort.

The program will be repeated tonight at 7PM and on Saturday at 8PM.



The Janáček concerto may be rarely heard, but is well represented on disc. Baiba Skride has just released it on Sony, several Czech performers have recordings to their name (I own Christiane Edinger with Václav Neumann on the super budget RCA/Arte Nove label), aforementioned Thomas Zehetmair (Warner/Apex import) has recorded it – and of course Tetzlaff himself, on Virgin Classics – also on a budget recording (oop). Those intrigued by Tetzlaff’s artistry are well advised to look for his recordings of Bartók Violin Sonatas with Leif Ove Andsnes, the complete works for Violin by Sibelius (both Virgin), and a terrific Beethoven Concerto with David Zinman on Arte Nova which is more than just an inexpensive alternative to the difficult-to-get Zehetmair recording (Frans Brüggen / Philips) I adore.

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