New York Philharmonic/Robertson

Violin Concerto No.2
Triple Quartet [Orchestral Version; New York premiere]
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93

Christian Tetzlaff (violin)

New York Philharmonic
David Robertson

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 4 December, 2004
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

In the first act of a curiously disparate triple bill, Christian Tetzlaff starred in Bartók’s bravura Second Violin Concerto. This was a muscular and intense performance, full of flair and imagination. Tetzlaff displayed an incisive virtuosity, emphasizing the sharper edges of the work by tearing fervently at the strings with thrilling accuracy, and bringing a marvellously hushed inner concentration and considerable poetic feeling to the softer moments of the piece. David Robertson led the Philharmonic musicians in an equally razor-sharp reading, full of nuance and especially satisfying during the climactic outbursts.

Bartók’s Concerto was commissioned by the violinist Zoltan Székely. When Székely objected to the piece’s ending, the orchestra alone closing the work, Bartók acquiesced and provided a revision. In this performance, Tetzlaff adhered to Bartók’s initial conception and performed the original, less frequently heard, ending in which the violinist remains silent as the orchestra alone plays the final 26 measures. In a program note, Tetzlaff said this ending is “better compositionally” since the orchestra doesn’t have to thin out to reveal the soloist and it allows for a “more bombastic” ending.

Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet exists in three versions: one for string quartet and pre-recorded tape, a second for three string quartets, and a third for 36 members of an orchestra string section. In the string-orchestra arrangement played in this concert, the quartets to which the composer refers consisted of 12 players each, with three musicians playing each part. The Triple Quartet contains levels of dissonance that are unusual for Reich, who was first introduced to the Schnittke string quartets as he began work on this dense and expressionistic piece, full of angular harmonies and textures. According to Reich, the initial inspiration for the Triple Quartet came from the last movement of Bartók’s Fourth Quartet. But Reich took no musical material from the Bartók. He used the energy of the work as his starting point. And the most striking thing about this performance of the Triple Quartet was the energy that Robertson and the Philharmonic strings put into it. But there wasn’t much depth beyond the skill and energy displayed by the players, and the piece seemed to go on for longer than the 15 minutes it actually lasted.

After the Reich, Beethoven’s jocular Eighth Symphony provided an alluring finish. From the opening statement of the first movement, the music had weight and substance. The strings were lustrous, the winds wonderfully reedy and plaintive, the brass warm and resonant. The ensemble playing in the second and third movements was confident and strong. Robertson brought out all the strength and range of the orchestra in a vibrant and completely captivating performance.

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