Tetzlaff Aces Bartók’s Violin Concertos

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Christian Tetzlaff recorded a superb Second Violin Concerto (with Michael Gielen) for Virgin Classics before his current “Jesus” period (see cover photo). Back then he looked like an innocent German school boy, round-rimmed glasses and all. Well, I suppose maturity has its advantages, because this remake is, if anything, even finer. The work is a difficult one to carry off. Few things sound uglier than virtuoso violin passagework shabbily played, and when the idiom is fundamentally dissonant, then the challenge gets multiplied tenfold. The first movement, especially, can easily degenerate into a series of gnarly orchestral outbursts alternating with thinly accompanied, screechy violin pyrotechnics.

Not here. Tetzlaff’s purity of intonation, lean but penetrating sonority, and most of all, his close integration with the larger ensemble (kudos to conductor Hannu Lintu as well) ensure that musical logic triumphs over mere flash and fury, and that the work’s structural coherence never founders. It’s a great performance, made even finer by exemplary sonics, balancing the solo against the orchestra in an ideally clear perspective. If you have ever questioned this work’s reputation (as I have), then this interpretation might put any qualms to rest.

Tetzlaff’s coupling on his earlier release was the Solo Violin Sonata. Here we have a better one: the First Violin Concerto, whose opening movement Bartók reused as the first of his Two Portraits. To be frank, it’s not a wholly successful work–the two-movement structure is unconvincing, the finale somewhat dull. Still, when played as well as it is here, it’s difficult to find cause to complain. That first movement, ten potential minutes of chromatic sludge, acquires a curious sweetness, even sex appeal, when played as flowingly and serenely as Tetzlaff does it, while the lengthy finale makes about as powerful an impression as it ever will. In short, it’s difficult to deny this release reference status if you’re looking for both works on a single disc.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This One

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