Gutsy violinist lays everything bare in ripper recital.

Melbourne Recital Centre
February 15, 2015

Christian Tetzlaff is becoming something of a Melbourne Recital Centre regular. After appearing as soloist with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra last year, the German violin virtuoso was back on Sunday evening as part of the centre’s Great Performers series, in a program celebrating the raw potential of the violin alone. Making the most of his time in Australia, Tetzlaff arrived in Victoria just days after wowing audiences in Sydney with his blisteringly high-octane performances of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the SSO. For this more intimate performance three solo sonatas were on offer; the outer two by Eugène Ysaÿe and Béla Bartók owing much of their language and form to the composer of the central work, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Unleashing the full force of his instrument from the get-go, Tetzlaff began the Ysaÿe Solo Sonata in G minor, Op.27, No.1 with a deliberate, uncompromising blow from his bow arm that sent sound erupting through the hall. Each stroke sank purposefully into the strings, drawing out thick, meaty chords that formed into a tortured counterpoint. These aggressive outbursts were balanced by gossamer-thin playing right at the fingerboard’s edge in the work’s quieter moments. Using the stillness of the space to his full advantage, Tetzlaff employed this haunting colour particularly effectively in the sonata’s nonchalant third movement. A ferociously spirited Allegro fermo returned to the serious world of the first two movements.

Next came the customary offering of Bach, in the form of the unaccompanied Sonata no.3 in C major. Tetzlaff negotiated the exquisite 4-part counterpoint of the throbbing first movement’s Adagio with a fine clarity, while the monumentally long second movement fugue, though expertly rendered, did at times come across as heavy handed. A reprieve came in the Largo third movement, which in Tetzlaff’s reading was sonorous and sweet, with inspired colour changes and what was at times a daringly soft caress of the bow. The final movement, the perpetually spinning Presto, was breathtakingly fast – so fast, in fact, that it looked to spin out of control right at the end. Tetzlaff did manage to rein it in with a whimsically placed, final trill; whether it was planned or not was too hard to tell (it was perfect nonetheless).

Following interval came the mighty Sonata for Solo Violin by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, written a year before the composer’s death in 1945. This dramatic work was the perfect vehicle for Tetzlaff to again show off his powerful bowing action, particularly in the second movement Fugue with its insistent, accented subject. The lament-like third movement featured some of the most stunningly soft passages of the evening, with a ghost-like, muted section, and perfect double-stopped false harmonics. Tetzlaff’s exuberant flourish at the end of the rapturous, folk-inspired finale brought many in the house to their feet.

There was one last treat, with more Bach served for an encore: in this case a beautifully nuanced reading of the pulsing C major Andante from the unaccompanied Sonata no.2.