LSO/Harding Christian Tetzlaff – Widmann & Mahler

Violin Concerto
Symphony No.6

Christian Tetzlaff (violin)

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins

Reviewed: 12 November, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Daniel HardingAlthough the 150th-anniversary of Mahler’s birth doesn’t fall until 2010, this year has already seen a number of excellent performances of the symphonies, including an exceptional account of the Sixth by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra. This concert provided another remarkable interpretation of it, different in approach and execution, but similarly overwhelming in its impact.

Daniel Harding, at the age of 34, offered what might be described as a young man’s view of the work. The opening was animated and mordant, the soaring second subject (said to represent Alma Mahler) was achingly passionate, and the coda was buoyant with energy and excitement. Tempos were well chosen and the movement’s quieter interludes were sensitively handled (although the oddly staccato playing of the offstage cowbells was not ideal).

Harding followed the first movement with the Andante moderato, in line with Mahler’s own performance practice (although not his original conception). The first half of the movement was impressively slow and hushed, with memorable solos from horn and woodwinds. Unfortunately, the latter half was somewhat undermined by Harding’s decision to introduce an abrupt accelerando before the main climax, a common practice despite Mahler’s instruction (bar 153) to conductors not to push ahead. This lapse was partially redeemed by the breathtaking account of the coda, one of Mahler’s most sublime inspirations.

The scherzo was given a highly distinctive performance, Harding emphasising the music’s bitter, angry nature and bringing a surprisingly visceral power to climaxes. A strong contrast was provided by the trio, which was notable for its dance-like quality. Throughout, characterful playing and antiphonal violins added to the effectiveness of the interpretation.

Harding’s control of the 30-minute finale was unerring, and he was rewarded with outstanding playing. The slow introduction was notable for its feeling of menace, and there were numerous other instances where orchestral sonorities were informed with insight and imagination. The two hammer blows were perfectly placed, as was the fortissimo chord which extinguishes the symphony’s final signs of life. It was a measure of the impact of the performance that coughs and other distractions seemed almost non-existent.

Christian Tetzlaff. Photograph: alexandra-vosding.deIn the first half of the concert, Christian Tetzlaff performed Jörg Widmann’s Violin Concerto, completed in 2007. (No mention was made as to this performance perhaps being a UK premiere.) Unlike some of this composer’s other pieces, which explore extremities of pitch, volume and tone colour to almost comical effect, the Violin Concerto is decidedly mainstream. Indeed, its rhapsodic melody, chromatic harmony and rich orchestration give the impression of being modelled on Alban Berg’s example. On the other hand, its 25-minute span lack obvious waypoints and is not readily absorbed in a single hearing. Tetzlaff, who premiered the concerto, gave a dedicated and technically accomplished performance, and the orchestra accompanied as if it were a repertoire piece.

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