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Concert Review/ Christian Tetzlaff

img  Tobias

Christian Tetzlaff, Violin

Bach: Partita No.2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
Bach: Sonata No.3 in C Major, BWV 1005
Kurtág: Short Violin Pieces
    “Perpeteuum mobile” from Signs, Games and Messages
    “Hommage à J.S.B.” from Signs, Games and Messages
    “Doloroso” from Nine Pieces for Solo Viola
    “Zank – Kromatisch” from Signs, Games and Messages
Ysaÿe: Sonata No.1 for Solo Violin in G Minor, Op.27
Paganini: From the 24 Caprices, Op.1, MS25
    Caprice No.16 in G Minor: Presto
    Caprice No.6 in G Minor: Lento
    Caprice No.15 in E Minor: Posato
    Caprice No.1 in E Major: Andante

   The “String series” at the Koerner Hall concert season has been a major attraction for concert-goers in Toronto. Each recital has witnessed a parallel increase not only in the diversity, but likewise a familiarity of faces among the attending audience. This series began with Midori and Robert McDonald last October, a month later with James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong, and on this past Sunday evening, it marked a grand finale with no less the celebrated German violinist Christian Tetzlaff. This was not only Mr. Tetzlaff’s début at the Royal Conservatory of Music, but was the violinist’s first Toronto solo recital appearance after a decade. Making a purposeful stopover to Toronto in the midst of his engagements with the Chicago Symphony, audience present at Mr. Tetzlaff’s recital attended what proved to be a major highlight in the 2009-2010 Koerner Hall season.

   Known for his illuminating, intelligent and imaginative interpretations, Mr. Tetzlaff showcased these qualities with works spanning from the Baroque to the Contemporary periods.  At the end of his recital, there were two attractive elements that audience took home with them. First, here was Mr. Tetzlaff giving a solo recital, alone on stage with his Greiner-made violin, but nonetheless was able to fill all corners of the Koerner Hall with personae of the violin, the cello, and the voice of the coloratura soprano all disguised under the spell of his string instrument. Second, although this programme involved both core and non-standard violin repertoire, there was an over-arching theme on one central figure, that of Johann Sebastian Bach.

     The first half of the recital focused on the second Partita and third Sonata from the catalogue of Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Solo Violin by Bach. One might say that violin-playing lived in the blood of Bach. This was a composer who was able to effectively use the violin to compose pieces of profound sublimity and intimate human expressions. Bach’s talent as a composer for the violin and keyboard could be best appreciated by his succinct use of counterpoint to transform vast harmonic architectures into great beauty of sounds. The Second Partita is one such example, where a diversity of rhythmic character can be found in each of the four dance forms – Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande and a Gigue, constituting the suite. Christian Tetzlaff was an ideal interpreter to identify the various nuances of these dances – from the way he executed the down-strokes at the beginning of a phrase to his articulation in the inner melodic voices of the complex harmonies; these were done with grace and clarity, with the Gigue being the liveliest of all. An additional attractive quality in Mr. Tetzlaff’s playing was his ability to convey and sustain a musical dialogue within a movement, by the way of paralleling a question with an answer. In doing so, he was imaginative to offer various instrumental personae (cello, winds, etc.) to represent the various ‘voices’ of the music harmony. This piece reached a pinnacle with the unique concluding movement Bach added, a Chaconne in D minor, which our violinist delivered with a heartfelt performance. Aside from the occasional instances when the tone sounded half-filled and episodes when more breathing space could be beneficial in between phrases, Mr. Tetzlaff carried the Chaconne to its rousing conclusion. He accomplished this by a mixture of compact chords, spacious arpeggios and high-spirited monodic lines, all of which befitted the warm and intimate acoustics of the Koerner Hall. The four-movement Third Sonata carried these elements forward, modeled after an overall pattern of slow-fast-slow-fast. Most impressive was the way Mr. Tetzlaff connected the slow movement and the subsequent fugue, which seemed compositionally linked like a Bach Prelude and Fugue. Like the Partita before it, virtuosity served not the ends, but the means by which Mr. Tetzlaff articulated his expression of music.

     From Bach, Mr. Tetzlaff returned on stage with music scores, the first of which were the short violin pieces by Kurtág. Each of these pieces lasted approximately 3-4 minutes long, and had a concentrated display of atonal techniques and references to Serialism. Evidently, Bach has as great an influence on our violinist as it did on the composer; “Hommage à J.S.B.” was a private message from Kurtág to his dedicatee. Rather than becoming fastidious with the composer’s analytical details on Bach’s style, Mr. Tetzlaff focused on the plethora of instrumental colours and melodic lines possible on his instrument. Imaginative he was, at times, listeners were able to hear two melodic lines interwoven as one. The next work was Ysaÿe’s Sonata No.1 in G Minor for solo violin, the first of six Sonatas wherein each of the six was dedicated to a celebrated violinist. The first was dedicated to Ysaÿe’s friend, Joseph Szigeti. This piece is arguably the most difficult of the six, which no less Mr. Tetzlaff exhibited with great faculty over the characteristic runs in 6ths and extended arpeggios. Ysaÿe was as much a man of the past as he was a visionary: Bach’s own set irrefutably had influence on the Belgian composer to model is approach, but visionary he was to produce instrumental effects on the violin that were ahead of his time. One of these Mr. Tetzlaff intelligently executed – at the end of the first movement, Ysaÿe instructed with the markings tremolando ponticello. Coupled with his imaginative approach, and affirmed by the ambience of the Koerner Hall atmosphere, Mr. Tetzlaff rendered an errie effect that was incomparable. Just when the audience believed Mr. Tetzlaff used up all his musical tricks with Ysaÿe, he returned on stage with the four devilish caprices from Paganini’s 24. The four were selected with an overall scheme of fast-slow-fast-flow, where technical wizardry and masterly sound control from our violinist took everyone by awe and gasp. Interestingly, two of the young attendees in the preceding row had a tough time keeping themselves idle on their seats from the aroused excitement. As a result, they moved further up after the first G Minor Caprice in order to witness all the virtuosic trickeries from Mr. Tetzlaff up close.

     From the turnout of this program, it was evident that Mr. Tetzlaff and the attending audience felt equally comfortable with the intimate acoustics of this concert venue that an encore seemed inevitable. Well-suited for the gracefulness of Bach’s music, Mr. Tetzlaff returned on the Koerner Hall stage to deliver the Gavotte from Bach’s Partita No.3 with a combination of refinement and youthfulness. Tonight, program notes provided by Steven Ledbetter was useful to readers unfamiliar with the Kurtág pieces, while three minor misprints associated with the Roman numeral “vi” were found in the program. The success of this Christian Tetzlaff recital has begged many, including the author, the question if Mr. Tetzlaff could see light to return to Toronto with his Tetzlaff Quartet to deliver more chamber music. More please?

By: Patrick P.L. Lam

Picture by Alexandra Vosding

Homepage: Christian Tetzlaff

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