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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806) [39:59]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 (1904/05) [31:09]
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Robin Ticciati
rec. live, November 2018 Philharmonie, Berlin (Beethoven); October 2018 Großer Sendesaal, Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin (Sibelius)
ONDINE ODE1334-2 [71:22]

For his new album on the Ondine label, violinist Christian Tetzlaff has turned to two of the greatest violin concertos ever written, the Beethoven and the Sibelius, works separated by almost a hundred years. Hamburg-born Tetzlaff is a soloist I greatly admire, and I’ve attended concerts of his in recent years at Berlin, Manchester and as recently as June of last year at the Dresden Kulturpalast where he played Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto.

Beethoven had to rush to complete his Violin Concerto in order to be ready for its first performance by the soloist Franz Clement in 1806 at Vienna. The première was unsuccessful, and the work lay unperformed until Joseph Joachim revived it in 1844. Despite its unconvincing start, it has become one of the most admired violin concertos in the repertoire. From his violin concerto Beethoven prepared a revised version for piano which includes a lengthy first movement cadenza featuring the timpanist alongside the solo pianist. Regarding the cadenzas here, in the booklet interviewer Friederike Westerhaus comments to Tetzlaff ‘what immediately stands out is that you play the timpani cadenza from the piano version of the concerto. You’ve also published this with Schott. And also in the further course of the music you work with cadenzas and ornamentations by Beethoven.’ The Beethoven is a work central to Tetzlaff’s repertoire. He has played it in concert on over 330 occasions yet here it still sounds remarkably fresh. Noteworthy is Tetzlaff’s polished and decisive playing. In the large opening movement, with its strong militaristic quality, the ‘struggle between the different elements’ that he highlights is communicated most compellingly. The sense of compassion in the Larghetto that I always look for, combined with an undertow of prayerlike contemplation, is also highly successful. In the Rondo-Finale I adore how Tetzlaff conveys episodes of nostalgic expression alongside the principal character of exhilaration and joy in the dancing high notes.

A violinist himself Sibelius, auditioned for the Vienna Philharmonic in 1891 albeit unsuccessfully. When starting work on his Violin Concerto in 1902, the composer was in his late thirties with his First and Second Symphonies together with Finlandia under his belt. Sibelius completed the concerto in 1904. The première given by soloist Victor Nováček in Helsinki the same year was received unfavourably. In 1905 Sibelius subjected the score to revision. In this concerto one soon senses Tetzlaff’s deep sense of involvement in Sibelius’ unique soundworld. Striking is the soloist’s virtuosity which in the outer movements feels bold and rugged in quality, convincingly conveying the biting Nordic chill that I always listen for but isn’t always present. In the affecting Adagio, the feeling of mysterious beauty floating above a dark undertow of sorrow is captivating.

What I especially admire about these entrancing performances by Tetzlaff is the freshness and vitality he brings so effectively to these masterworks. One senses that he is entirely inside the music emotionally. Throughout both works the sound of Tetzlaff’s violin, a modern instrument made by German luthier Stefan-Peter Greiner, is glorious. Under Robin Ticciati the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin excel with firm and resolute playing in performances which are entirely empathetic to the soloist from start to finish. Both works were recorded in Berlin for Ondine, the Beethoven live at Philharmonie and the Sibelius under studio conditions at Großer Sendesaal, Haus des Rundfunks. The respective engineering teams provide first class sound and no applause is retained in the live recording. The booklet information takes the form of Friederike Westerhaus interviewing Christian Tetzlaff about these two works. In truth I prefer the traditional essay format.

Not surprisingly these two magnificent concertos are extremely well represented in the record catalogues and I have accumulated many. However, I have managed to settle on a single recording of each, both of which are on Deutsche Grammophon. In the Beethoven concerto I am a long-time admirer of the classic 1962 account from Austrian soloist Wolfgang Schneiderhan with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Eugen Jochum, recorded at Jesus-Christus-Kirche Dahlem, Berlin. In the Sibelius concerto I relish the more recent 2016 account played by the Georgian soloist Lisa Batiashvili with the Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim, recorded at the Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, Berlin. Now this outstanding new album from Christian Tetzlaff provides the strongest possible competition to Schneiderhan and Batiashvili.

Michael Cookson
Previous review: Jens F Laurson

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