Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto No. 2,
“In the Hungarian Manner”
Christian Tetzlaff (vn); Thomas Dausgaard, cond; Danish Natl SO
VIRGIN 502109 (78:25)
Christian Tetzlaff isn’t the first to record Joachim’s prolix and difficult “Hungarian” Concerto (Charles Treger, Aaron Rosand, Elmar Oliveira, and Rachel Barton Pine have preceded him); and he isn’t the first, either, to pair Brahms’s Concerto with the
earlier one by his friend. Rachel Barton Pine, who coupled these concertos, however, took Brahms’s at a more leisurely pace (almost three minutes slower in the first movement alone) and divided the whole of more than 97 minutes over two CDs (Çedille, 26:6).
Christian Tetzlaff’s reading of the Brahms Concerto with Thomas Dausgaard and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra combines, in the work’s first movement, no-nonsense masculine strength with shadowy haunting lyricism (note the passage in which Brahms quotes Viotti’s 22nd Concerto, a piece he used to play with Joachim, or the etherealized return of the violin after the cadenza). If exploring these concertos jointly seems
a sort of desiccated academic exercise (virtuosos as virtuosos have pretty much abandoned virtuoso Joachim’s Concerto), listeners will note from the outset that Tetzlaff doesn’t play Brahms’s Concerto as a classroom assignment in comparison and contrast. (Neither did Pine.) Yet his intellectual vigor is ever apparent, informing his Romanticism and enforcing his virtuoso’s contract with the symphonic orchestral masses. Listeners to Tetzlaff’s recording may lose patience with Sarasate’s complaint at having to stand idly by while the oboe played the Concerto’s only good melody at the opening of the second movement, so seductive seems the beauty of the orchestra’s woodwinds in the opening passage and, later, the nuanced dialogue in which the strings engage the soloist. Tetzlaff, the penetrating interpreter of Bach’s solo repertoire, commands the same depth of musicianship in his reading of Brahms. The finale bustles with virtuosic gypsy excitement; Tetzlaff’s romp through the coda bursts with an energy like that at the end of Prokofiev’s Second Concerto.
Leonid Kogan seemed especially fond of Brahms’s Concerto and infused it with an intense heat that also shed light. If Tetzlaff’s performance doesn’t generate quite so much excitement as did Kogan’s (as genial and radiant as it may be in its own way), it focuses an equally bright light on details, bringing them to bear in his own personal way on the work’s general argument.
In Joachim’s “Hungarian” Concerto, Tetzlaff takes only about three minutes longer than Rosand did in the first movement; and Rosand made cuts. (I remember two professors arguing about Schubert’s Ninth Symphony: one maintaining that nobody had successfully cut it, so that it couldn’t be too long; the other objecting that if it wasn’t too long, so many attempts wouldn’t have been made to cut it!) Be that as it may, the just over three-and-three-quarter-minutes opening
(Kalmar and the Chicago Symphony’s
took almost four and a half minutes, but, beginning with more mystery, didn’t generate so much excitement—or perhaps sound so Brahmsian), as Dausgaard conceives it, rises to full-blown symphonic majesty, brightened by the splashy woodwind passages. Tetzlaff makes a great deal of the solo part’s virtuosity (never showy, yet always brilliantly conceived). And his playing of the first movement’s double-stopped passages make them sound uncannily similar at times to corresponding figures in Brahms’s Concerto. But in Joachim’s Concerto, the violin, though arising from a lush matrix of sound, remains central to the work’s thematic unfolding; Sarasate couldn’t have had much about which to complain in this work. I’ve noted before that Rosand, taking center stage, brought the right kind of excitement to his performance (Treger had always seemed to struggle with its technical difficulties, and Oliveira’s double-stops occasionally made me uncomfortable). Tetzlaff takes charge as thrillingly as did Rosand, while Barton seems more subtle, and more recessed (though that balance may be more realistic).
The slow movement benefits from Tetzlaff’s moving it along, and Tetzlaff, as in the first movement, loses few opportunities to impart to Joachim’s ingratiating melodies ethnic color and an almost improvisational flair. The finale is replete with gypsy-like violinistic gestures, and Tetzlaff’s secure double-stops and facility in rapid passagework, coupled with his willingness to play the meteoric pages full throttle (and Dausgaard’s obvious delight in the dance-like passages), allow him to make a genuine
tour de force
of this movement. As in the Brahms Concerto, the engineers have recessed their soloist rather farther into the orchestral sound than listeners to Isaac Stern’s old Columbia recordings may prefer. But the Tetzlaff’s performance would quell such quibbles, even without an orchestral accompaniment as strongly conceived as Dausgaard’s.
Both for its individual and glowing performance of the Brahms Concerto and for its revelatory one of the beauties and joyousness of Joachim’s, Tetzlaff’s issue deserves an urgent recommendation, tops for Joachim and at the top for Brahms.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Christian Tetzlaff (Violin)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1878; Austria
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