Friday, November 1, 2013

Tetzlaff siblings illuminate Brahms – orchestra accents the angst in Shostakovich 10

Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff
Similar to a three-course meal that transitions from light to heavy to very heavy, the Oregon Symphony’s concert on Monday evening (October 28) served up a musical feast that included works by Carl Maria von Weber,  Johannes Brahms, and Dmitri Shostakovich. Monday evening’s performance was the final one in the series of three over the weekend with the remarkable Tetzlaff siblings, Christian and Tanja, starring in the Brahms Double Concerto.  All of the concerts were conducted by the Oregon Symphony’s music director, Carlos Kalmar, who just had his contract extended into the 2018 season.

Christian Tetzlaff is an internationally renowned violinist with a discography of over 20 recordings. His sister, Tanja, is an acclaimed cellist, and although she is lesser known than her brother, they enjoy getting together to play the violin and cello concerti, such as Brahms’s Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra. So it was a treat to hear them in Portland where they played that piece for a near-capacity audience at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
Because they communicated so well with each other, the Tetzlaffs created a marvelous performance of the Brahms that revealed the beauty of the Double Concerto. When both were playing at the same time, they maintained an impeccable balance of sound with the melodic line always coming out on top.  In places where they had to finish each other phrases, it was as if they had a mind meld. In their hands, and with the support of the orchestra, the Brahms took on various colors, with bold tones announcing some of the theme like the opening statement in the first movement, cooler sounds during the more agitated sections, and warm tones, such as in the slower second movement and in the sprightly melody that begins the third. It was a feast for the ears and caused the audience to applaud at the end of the first movement and then give a sustained, heartfelt standing ovation at the end of the piece.
In the second half of the concert, the orchestra gave an outstanding performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, bringing out the anxiety of the piece, which Shostakovich wrote soon after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. Since Shostakovich suffered greatly under the suspicious gaze of Stalin, one would think that he would pen something more akin to “The Wicked Witch is Dead,” but there are no such frolicking moments in Symphony No. 10. Instead, there are spare lines, driving rhythms, and vanishing phrases – all of which add up to a lot of tension and release. The bass violin section’s dark, opening statement established the mood right away. It was reciprocated later by pensive violins, edgy clarinets, and an ominous passage for the bassoons. In the midst of all that were several hard driving passages led by the brass and the percussion, Terrific solos by principal players in the woodwinds and horns and the brief, almost surreal waltz in the third movement mitigated the anxious atmosphere of the piece, but a bigger sense of relief came only in the finale of the last movement – with its rousing, exulting, rush of sound.  
The concert began with a lit and spirited rendition of the Overture to Weber’s opera “Abu Hassan.” The strings played the lightning fast passages with élan. Their crisp playing was topped with  delightful “Turkish” cymbals and triangle.

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