LSO/Harding Christian Tetzlaff – Mendelssohn & Mahler

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.10 [Performing Version of Mahler’s draft, prepared by Deryck Cooke in collaboration with Berthold Goldschmidt, Colin Matthews and David Matthews]

Christian Tetzlaff (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 20 November, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Christian Tetzlaff. Photograph: alexandra-vosding.deNot the most romantic performance of the Mendelssohn but full of good things with Tetzlaff and Harding setting off like an express-train into the opening movement. Hard driven to the point of fierceness, this was nevertheless a compelling approach although it wouldn’t have been to all tastes. Christian Tetzlaff was committed and secure through the figurations of the cadenza although his tone was never the sweetest. The Andante could never be described as gentle but was sweetly lyrical and full of passion avoiding any hint of sentimentality. The technical hurdles of the finale were effortlessly negotiated but the driven approach repeated from the first movement backfired for something full of excitement but lacking in wit and sparkle.

Daniel HardingIf the Mendelssohn had its share of the good and bad then Mahler 10 had much more of the bad than the good. For this was, for the most part, a leaden and non-engaging affair. It’s difficult to fathom where exactly Daniel Harding stands with this work. He describes it as “extraordinary … astonishing … and uncomfortable”. Fine words and “uncomfortable” is exactly how the first movement should sound. This is, after all, music by a man suffering under the emotional trauma of his wife’s infidelity and a terminal heart-condition. Instead, Harding conducted an account that was anything but “uncomfortable”, lacking tension from the opening theme for violas and then into the sleepy entrance of the rest of the strings and trombones.

This unpromising opening set the mark for the whole performance with Harding steering the music into a kind of bland no-man’s-land devoid of dynamic contrasts. String phrases were played legato with blunted edges: all far too smooth and comfy. Even the ferocious outburst midway through the first movement and the dissonant nine-note chord felt muted and shorn of any feeling of terror.

To his credit Harding always resisted the temptation to linger and never resorted to sentimental gestures. The scherzos were well paced, too; the collapse of the fourth movement’s waltz was coolly executed with an enormous amount of detail. But this was a bloodless performance, too safe in its approach and short on emotional impact. Not even Gareth Davies’s delicately spun flute solo in the finale was enough to lift a tired and uninspired LSO out of the mire.

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