Saturday, March 19, 2011

Boston Symphony Orchestra - Mozart, Birtwistle & Bartok - 03/15/11

Conductor: Marcelo Lehninger
Mozart: Rondo in C Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 373 – Christian Tetzlaff
Birtwistle: Violin Concerto – Christian Tetzlaff
Bartok: Violin Concerto No 2 – Christian Tetzlaff

Any opportunity to hear Christian Tetzlaff perform is always a special treat, so I was very much looking forward to indulging in a very special triple treat last Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall, where he is the Perspectives artist of the season. To my endless chagrin and growing frustration, I hadn’t been able to catch any of his performances so far, but what can I say? I have been a little busy lately. Of course, the fact that he would be accompanied the prestigious Boston Symphony Orchestra did not hurt one bit, even if James Levine had to pull out again due to his recurring health issues. The orchestra’s assistant conductor, Marcelo Lehninger, would be at hand and I trusted that he could handle the job almost as well.
The program was an interesting mix of the very well-known with Mozart’s Rondo in C Major for Violin and Orchestra, the completely unknown with the New York première of Birtwistle’s violin concerto, and the moderately known with Bartok’s second violin concerto. All in all, a trio of violin-centric works which could only get the deluxe treatment in the consistently brilliant hands of Christian Tetzlaff.

Although Mozart's mastery of the violin is rarely emphasized, it is nevertheless a historic fact that can be easily proven with, for example, his delicious little Rondo whose only flaw is its shortness. At only seven minutes, it barely gives the listener the time to get into the elegantly playful mood and it is already over. On Tuesday night, those seven minutes were as perfect as they could get and just flew by with delightful grace.
After this all-round charming beginning, we were in for a rude awakening with Harrison Birtwistle’s violin concerto. Seeing instruments such as a low nipple gong and a castanet machine in the scoring section should have alerted me that something unusual was coming our way, but little was I prepared for the mostly gratingly dissonant cacophony that mercilessly hit us. During the whole 25-minute pensum (and those were by far the longest 25 minutes I have ever spent in a concert hall) that did not seem to go anywhere, I could not help but internally lament what a waste it was to have such outstanding musicians play such an unengaging composition. It may have been an interesting experiment for a few esoteric music theorists, but at the end of the day, if it does not sound good, why play it in public... or play it at all?
Compared to that dreadful assault, Bartok’s violin concerto went down almost as easily as Tchaikovsky’s! Yes, it does have some rough spots here and there, but it also displays plenty of good old-fashioned lyricism and attractive Eastern European exoticism. After a very subdued opening, the violin makes a dazzling appearance and the concerto unfolds in a smorgasbord of rhythms and colors, constantly keeping the audience – and probably the musicians – on their toes. After Mozart’s lovely candy and Birtwistle’s athletic ordeal, Christian Tetzlaff was finally able to dwell into a challenging but appealing adventure while the orchestra showed a wonderfully united front, reminding us all what good music sounds like.


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