On paper, this pair of Russian classics makes for an intriguing partnership. Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony are both brooding and expansive works that ultimately strive – perhaps, tellingly, over forcefully – for jubilant resolution, an obvious point of comparison not necessarily borne out by the performances of Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Christian Tetzlaff is very familiar with the Shostakovich, completed in 1948 and then revised up to the delayed first performance in 1955. (Its opus number of 99, retained in the LSO’s printed programme, was later re-assigned to 77 to reflect the date of composition.) Tetzlaff has the work at the centre of his repertoire for a number of years. His direct but vulnerable approach to the first movement drove to the heart of this conflicted and wounded music and his playing took on a gripping intensity in the ‘Passacaglia' third movement. Tetzlaff is a violinist who thrives on the edge of his abilities, but here he sailed a little too close to danger, succumbing to some worrying slips of intonation and articulation. Perhaps that added to the work’s dogged vigour, but certain passages (particularly in the ‘Scherzo’) became pretty shapeless and some uncharacteristic untidiness from the LSO contributed to a few tense moments as orchestra and soloist threatened to drift apart. Tetzlaff dissipated the furious energy of the final 'Burlesque' by following it with the ‘Sarabande’ from J. S. Bach’s D minor Partita.
Pappano eschewed the much-discussed hollowness of the final triumph of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, presenting instead a view of the work that emphasised plush beauty over psychological turbulence: there’s a great deal to be said for a straightforward interpretation and building a performance to match. Tempos were on the broad side, and there was a perfectly judged subtlety of rubato
in Pappano’s direction. The LSO responded effortlessly and gave him a tremendously rich array of tone. The heft
of the strings didn’t preclude delicacy, though – much of the third-movement ‘Valse’ was characterised by light textures and flowing expression. On its own terms, this was a fine performance.