Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Christian Tetzlaff: Violin
Anne Sofie von Otter: Mezzo-Soprano
Sibelius: Symphony No. 7
The Sibelius violin concerto being one of my all-time favorites in the entire classical music repertoire, I make a point of hearing it live any chance I get, schedule permitting. Additionally, because it is such a challenging composition, it is generally performed by certified virtuosic violinists at the top of their game, which never fails to make the whole experience even more memorable. I had been markedly spoiled in that regard last season with Anne-Sophie Mutter, Hilary Hahn and Leonidas Kavakos satiating at least temporarily my incurable craving for it, each in their own special way.
On the other hand, this season I would have to content myself with one performance of it at the beginning of June, just about one long year after I had last heard it. But my patience would no doubt be grandly rewarded since the formidable Christian Tetzlaff would be the one doing the honors this time. And the rest of the concert line-up was unquestionably impressive as well with The MET Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Anne Sofie von Otter for a program that also comprised Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7 – because one can never hear too much Sibelius – as well as a few Mahler pieces, all of which would hopefully cheer up the almost capacity crowd on that gray, cool and wet Tuesday evening.
The concert started with Gustav Mahler’s short “Blumine”, a sentimental “Bouquet of flowers” that was eventually removed from his Titan symphony and nowadays delicately blooms on its own. In the hands of The MET Orchestra, playing from a stage instead of a pit for a change, the attractive miniature stood out for its finely nuanced inconspicuousness.
In stark contrast to the lovely opening serenade, Christian Tetzlaff’s absolutely thrilling and particularly athletic take of the Sibelius concerto included his signature intellectual inquisitiveness accompanied by the perfect combination of muscularity and nimbleness. The first movement came out starkly beautiful, atmospherically haunting and emotionally intense, even earning him a spontaneous round of applause at the end of it. The Adagio was pure lyrical bliss and the third movement had all the requisite playful oomph, fearless heroism, and then some.
Even though the MET orchestra is by default not experienced in Sibelius music, their assertive performance of the demanding work made them the ideal partner for the kind of high-flying star turn that Tetzlaff delivered, and confirmed one more time that they can handle just about anything thrown at them. As usual, maestro Salonen managed to keep the blazing music under his cool control while still whole-heartedly indulging the soloist's breath-taking acrobatics.
Our thunderous standing ovation was not in vain, and Tetzlaff gamely moved from Finland to Hungary for a surprise Presto from Bartok’s Solo Violin Sonata, whose daunting difficulties were clearly mere Kinderspiel to him.
The atmosphere went down a notch or two after intermission, when Anne Sofie von Otter sang Kindertotenlieder, which consisted in five poignant poems about parents’ reactions to their children’s death that had been written by German poet Friedrich Rückert and later sensitively put to music by Mahler. The veteran Swedish mezzo-soprano’s voice has never been huge and is therefore more suited for intimate settings. That was not quite the case on Tuesday night, but Salonen generally succeeded in making sure that her refined and touching singing was heard over the orchestra as she was describing the parents’ distraught, reflective and ultimately hopeful states of mind.
The evening concluded with more Sibelius with his Symphony No. 7, a 20-minute piece that the composer first called a “Fantasia sinfonica” before deciding that the one constantly morphing movement had the scope and power of an actual symphony after all. And it does. On Tuesday night, the composer’s seemingly low-key yet ambitious approach yielded myriad individual details for an end result that was as unique as satisfying. Fully channeling his Nordic heritage, Salonen let the music organically grow with unexpected colors, endless ambiguities, fascinating sounds, and an intensely dramatic ending that was totally worthy of the composer's final symphonic work and, incidentally, of the final concert of my Carnegie Hall season.