Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tetzlaff and Could You Ask For Anything More?

From the web site "Music in Cincinnati" by Mary Ellyn Hutton on 4/17/09

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff is responsible for the finest single performance (and I do mean single) I have ever heard in my life: the complete unaccompanied sonatas and partitas of Johann Sebastian Bach, six multi-movement works, from memory, just Tetzlaff and his violin, at Memorial Hall in Cincinnati on Oct. 10, 2004. He returned to Cincinnati Friday night at Music Hall for a guest appearance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. This time it was the Brahms Violin Concerto and the consummate musicality he brought to Bach and the baroque was fulfilled in this exemplar of German romanticism. The concert, billed as "Music and Drama," and led by music director Paavo Järvi, also included orchestral music from Berlioz' "Romeo and Juliet" and 20th-century iconoclast Mauricio Kagel's Etude Number 3. "Music and Drama"was a title that, like most attempts to label a symphony concert, was somewhat ill-fitting since Kagel's Etude is not one of his "music as theater" works and to make a purely orchestral symphony out of Berlioz' "Dramatic Symphony" (the composer's term) takes some doing that necessarily foreshortens the drama. Tetzlaff's reading of the Brahms partook more of selfless beauty and perfection than of pitting soloist against orchestra as implied by the concerto form. From the entrance of the violin after the orchestral exposition, Tetzlaff made that clear, asserting lyricism and clarity over bravura. The first movement moved briskly along, favoring integration of forces for the utmost expressive effect. Even in the cadenza -- a daunting one that he made look easy -- Tetzlaff elevated musical expression over display. The Adagio was ravishing, beginning with principal oboist Dwight Parry 's shapely enunciation of the gentle theme. Tetzlaff, who dips and sways for emphasis as he plays, followed with a tone so pure and sweet it could re-set the standards for silver and gold. Working closely with Järvi, who made the CSO an equal partner throughout the concerto, he moved briskly into the gypsy rondo finale where the emphasis was more on suavity and good humor than swagger. Responding to the audience's ovation, Tetzlaff encored with, yes, Bach, the Largo from his unaccompanied Sonata in C Major, BWV 1005. Berlioz' seven-movement "Romeo and Juliet" is part opera/oratorio, part symphony. It is a landmark work that greatly impressed Richard Wagner, among others, and led to the expansion and variation of the symphonic form as exemplified by Gustav Mahler. The five orchestral portions come from movements 1-4 and 6: The Montagues and Capulets brawling (first movement introduction), Romeo alone at the ball (movement two), the balcony scene (movement three), "Queen Mab" scherzo (movement four) and Romeo at Juliet's tomb (movement six). To make a purely orchestral symphony out of this, some combination of movements must be made. Ending with Berlioz' movement six (Romeo at the tomb) doesn't work. since it is very short (eight minutes) and ends with a whimper of clarinet. Better are the splendid "Queen Mab" scherzo and Romeo alone at the ball, though to end with one of these leaves the drama incomplete. (Berlioz ends the work, like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with a splendid choral/orchestral finale and a solo bass as Friar Lawrence.) Still it was wonderful to hear this great music. (The first complete performance of Berlioz' "Romeo and Juliet" in the U.S. took place at the 1878 Cincinnati May Festival, led by Theodore Thomas.) Järvi began with the Montagues and Capulets, then the love scene, "Queen Mab" and finally, Romeo alone at the ball, giving it a four movement, symphonic shape (not unlike Berlioz programmatic "Symphonie fantastique"). The violas dug in with grit in the opening fugato, quickly followed by the cellos and violins, as the warring Montagues and Capulets. The intervention of the Prince of Verona showcased the princely CSO brasses, who sent the fractious strings scattering. Järvi took the second movement balcony scene at an ardent pace, letting Berlioz' masterful tone painting say it all, warm and anxious for Romeo (cellos), sweetly responsive for Juliet (woodwinds). There was no hint of "forbidden-ness" or of the tragedy to come and Juliet even dallied when her nurse called from inside the house (angry outbursts by the violins). "Queen Mab" (the tiny creature who invades people's dreams) brought the full color of the CSO to the fore, with muted, scampering strings, the mysterious flute/English horn episode, the call to arms within the sleeping soldier's brain (horns, drums) and the sparkling, Tinkerbell-like end. "Romeo alone," the final movement, contrasted the melancholy hero with the frenetic sounds of the Capulets' ball. Oboist Parry, the CSO cellos (pizzicato) and percussionist William Platt on tambourine combined in a beautiful exposition of Romeo's theme, while Järvi gave it an almost bitter irony later against the confusion of the ball. "Merriment" held sway, though, to the final slam bang end. Kagel, who died in September shortly after attending a performance of his Etude No. 3 by the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra led by Järvi, was one of the musical innovators of the last century. He was most famous for introducing theater into his works by calling for use of props, acting by the players and so on. "Etude" denotes a piece of absolute music (stressing a technical demand of some kind) and so it is in this seven-and-a-half-minute work commissioned by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, where it was premiered in 1997 by former CSO music director Michael Gielen. But perhaps Kagel's tongue was in his cheek, since the musicians have plenty to exercise them throughout. It is an attractive work that rewards repeated hearing since there is so much going on. It chugged softly at the beginning, working into a furor now and then and (to me at least) recalling both John Adams and Igor Stravinsky. It was momentarily ethereal, with string harmonics, piccolos, harps and piano at one point. At another, a four-note theme sneaked through. There was a momentary jam session that landed on an open fifth, then climbed back through a big jazz lick to a jolly finish on a big major chord. The concert repeats at 8 p.m. tonight and should not be missed. Call (513) 381-3300 for tickets.

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