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Seen and Heard Concert Review

Messiaen, Berg, Tchaikovsky Christian Tetzlaff (violin); LPO/Vladimir Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, 26 May, 2005 (CC)

Lisa Batiashvili was the intended soloist for the Berg Violin Concerto, but ‘indisposition’ meant that it fell to Christian Tetzlaff to step into the breach. Nerves were clearly on edge – Jurowski decided not to wait for silence before the work’s dreamy opening. If the opening boded well (once it had actually started) with Tetzlaff’s blanched tone for the initial arpeggiations creating contrast to the warmth of the orchestra immediately thereafter, it soon became clear that the orchestra was rather at sea. There were moments of confusion in a score where Hauptstimmen and Nebenstimmen are clearly indicated by the composer when any doubt may be in evidence. Further, Tetzlaff seemed rather weak of projection throughout the work. Rawness, so vital to the second part of this concerto, was in short supply. A pity also that the solo violin’s presentation of the chorale theme, though warmly stated, was effectively stripped of its underlying meaning (the text reads, ‘It is enough; take then my spirit, Lord’).

Messiaen’s L’Ascension, another product of the 1930’s (1932-3; the Berg is 1935), is subtitled ‘Four Meditations’. It poses terrific challenges for an orchestra, not least in the wind-and-brass only opening movement, ‘Majesty of Christ claiming his glory from his Father’. Tuning left this listener unconvinced, and a generally unhypnotic aura meant that the big ‘arrival point’ was almost but not quite resplendent.

The proto-birdsong (i.e. not yet quotations) of ‘Serene Alleluias of a soul longing for Heaven’ worked well; just a pity the end was under-powered. Jurowski opted for an overtly dancing gait as opposed to power in the ‘Alleluia on the trumpet, alleluia on the cymbal’ and in doing so lost any tangible feeling of ecstasy (it is marked ‘lively and joyful’). The final ‘Prayer of Christ ascending to His Father’ again fell short of truly religious concentration, this time because the concentration simply was not there. A sort of near glow is simply not good enough in music that speaks so strongly from religious fervour as it describes in literal terms the ascent of Christ.

Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ is yet another work full of raw emotions. And again, it brooks no half-measures. Auguring well, the double-basses at the opening were superbly, gorgeously balanced at a remarkably soft dynamic level. Indeed, the first movement breathed a commendable structural integrity, the second subject emerging as the logical continuation of the preceding passage. Individuals stood out, not least the principal clarinettist, whose shading of the line at near inaudability was heart-stopping. Problems of ensemble dogged the third movement (allegro molto vivace) but it was the finale that was most disappointing. More dark-ish purple than black and nods to the world of the ballet, Jurowski’s interpretation resolutely failed to take us to the netherworlds.

There was a thread of death running through this programme, from L’ascension through the early demise of the inspiration for Berg’s Violin Concerto, Manon Gropius, to the valedictory nature to the Pathétique’s finale. What could have been a deeply moving experience that could have stayed with the audience for long after the end of the concert was effectively scuppered by too much evidence of slack preparation and interpretations that have yet to mature.

Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

Berg Violin Concerto: Daniel Hope on Warner Classics plays a new edition of the score (courtesy of Berg scholar Douglas Jarman) that lends his recording authority: 2546-60291-2. Both Mutter and Perlman provide memorable readings also.

Tchaikovsky 6: Mravinsky/Leningrad Philharmonic DG The Originals 447 423-2



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