La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Christian Tetzlaff delivers victory in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

It was a concert that began and concluded with mild ecstasy. British conductor Mark Wigglesworth whipped up a decent performance from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra by opening with a subdued and rather grave reading of Wagner's Prelude to Parsifal and ending with a colourful and tightly focused account of Rachmaninoff's expressive third symphony.

But what really counted for most listeners at Roy Thomson Hall Dec. 1 was German violinist Christian Tetzlaff's exciting showdown in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major.

In this day and age, performing a piece as feverish as the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto — which easily puts the Bieber fever to shame, by the way — is, in a nutshell, hard. Just about every violinist has tackled the work in private or in public and just about every interpretation has been heard live on stage or otherwise.

So it was hugely refreshing to see the petite- and slender-looking Tetzlaff, whose demeanor resembles that of a neat pharmacist or banker, taking some risks on stage.

Tetzlaff was gutsy without being reckless. His approach was extreme and came with clear articulation and unapologetic execution. There were elements of unpredictability and unevenness in his playing throughout the three movements and perhaps that was what made the partnership between orchestra and soloist sound rocky and slightly under-rehearsed at times.

That being said, it was those questionable, exotic moments in various passages that made all the big climaxes more thrilling, punchy and exuberant. The cadenzas, played without taking too much time lingering in between the harmonics, built up a kind of an erratic momentum that was intense yet serenely graceful. In contrast, Tetzlaff delivered a sweet, nostalgic voice on mute in the melancholic second movement.

In the end, there was a sense of a battle won in overcoming the sheer emotional turmoil from what could only be some kind of a violinistic genius on stage.

The program repeats at Roy Thomson Hall Dec. 2.

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