Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Op.29 – Passacaglia from Act II
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Violet Bergen
Reviewed: 16 April, 2015
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
In 1936, two years after its successful premiere, Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was denounced by Pravda, a “deliberately dissonant, confused stream of sound.” This critique led to the composer’s subsequent scrutiny by the Soviet dictatorship, putting his career, and possibly life, in jeopardy. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s dark, bass-heavy sound perfectly portrayed the tortured atmosphere of the second Act’s ‘Passacaglia’ – this interlude coming immediately after the title character’s first deed of murder.
Beethoven wrote his Violin Concerto for the concertmaster of Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Franz Clement, a musician noted for the delicacy and elegance of his playing. Christian Tetzlaff’s style is similar. His tone is not large, but his sweet, subtly shaded timbre worked sublimely. He highlighted the piece’s Romantic nature, using much rubato and wide dynamic contrasts. In the first movement he played his own playful cadenza, with percussive multi-stops, based on the one that Beethoven wrote (including timpani) for his transcription of the Concerto for piano and orchestra. Tetzlaff gave the Larghetto with sublimely expressive softness, at one point reducing his tone to a resonant whisper. In the finale he continued to eschew classicism, with occasional glissandos and a vibrantly passionate conclusion. The BSO’s accompaniment was mismatched. The string section was too large for Tetzlaff’s intimate tone, and its playing seemed hesitant in an effort not to cover him, although the woodwind section did not hold back, at times overpowering the soloist. The tuttis were rendered in typical Classical manner, lacking flexibility. As an energetic encore Tetzlaff played the last movement of J. S. Bach’s Sonata in C (BWV1005).
After an eight-year break from symphonic form, Shostakovich began writing his Tenth Symphony five months after Stalin’s death: “I wanted to express human emotions and passions.” Andris Nelsons led the BSO with carefully measured intensity, the balance again bottom-heavy, creating a suitably ominous climate. The opening Moderato’s tension gradually increased in a slow burn, and the fierce, biting Scherzo (ostensibly a portrait of the dead dictator) featured the wonderfully raucous clarinet-playing of William Hudgins. It is hard to hear the third movement’s rhythmic motif without thinking of the description given to it by a double bass player in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, that this pattern invokes Shostakovich’s fear of the authorities knocking on his door, coming to take him away. The BSO once again created a fine gradation of power rising to its peak, the forceful repetition of the composer’s musical signature DSCH which assertively states his identity. The finale also had its intensity kept in check until the very end, when it rose to a controlled frenzy.