Thursday, October 22, 2015
Christian Tetzlaff in a Stunning Shostakovich Violin Concerto
On Sunday afternoon at Davies Hall, I heard one of the most stupendous, virtuosic, soulful musical performances of my long concertgoing life. The German violinist Christian Tetzlaff played Shostakovich's 1948 Violin Concerto No. 1 with more colors than one thought possible, fierce and demonic one moment, soft and introspective the next. It is an almost impossibly difficult piece of music to play, according to David Oistrakh who premiered the work in 1955 when Stalin was safely in the grave, and music not written expressly for the proletariat was being allowed to premiere in public again.
My friend Michael Nava, posing under a Dia de Los Muertos display in the lobby, thought Tetzlaff looked like an Italian Renaissance painting of Jesus. He certainly played like a contemporary god, and the orchestra under Finnish guest conductor Susanna Mälkki kept up with Tetzlaff every step of the way.
After intermission, the orchestra played Prokofiev's World War II era Fifth Symphony. The performance was widely admired by others, but after the Shostakovich, it sounded bombastic, incoherent and musically regressive. This was especially true after hearing the same composer's complex, progressive and witty first string quartet from 1930 performed by the Pavel Haas Quartet earlier in the week. There is some great music by Prokofiev from his return to Soviet Russia era (1936-1953), the ballets and film scores in particular, but the Fifth Symphony is not aging well.