Serafim Smigelskiy, the cellist in the Tesla Quartet, playing alone in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Photo by Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Monday, February 10, 2020

György Ligeti: Violin Concerto – Christian Tetzlaff, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, François-Xavier Roth (HD 1080p)

German violinist Christian Tetzlaff performs György Ligeti's Violin Concerto with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln under the baton of the French conductor François-Xavier Roth. The concert was recorded at Cologne Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany, on October 3, 2017.

In the canon of great composer-portraits (Opmeer's Josquin, Delacroix's Chopin, Picasso's Stravinsky), there's a lesser-known but absolutely brilliant painting of György Ligeti by Aliute Meèys. In it Ligeti is falling apart, many times in many ways: there's actually about five impeccably illustrated Ligetis, all cardboard placard-peers clad in ruffled green suits, with gray hair and worried looks, each about to topple over or crack in half – and each barely being held in place by one another amidst rocky ruins. Meèys' portrait would just be a joke – "Ligeti split" – if it didn't look so much like Ligeti's music sounds: both have that same polyrhythmic track of hysteria and precision, humor and disaster, webbed into a kind of recognizable, exact chaos.

Ligeti's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra from 1992 is a relatively late work, but in many ways it's the brother of Meèys' portrait: its five movements have the same quality of falling apart into fantastic ruin, and each also gleams with the immaculate shimmer of carefully crafted illusions. Like the painting, this concerto is a desperate but tragic essay in keeping it together. At the compositional stage, Ligeti eventually conceived a walloping eight-movement scheme, but half in fragments. The final solution yielded a rhetorical stroke of genius: violinist Gawriloff collaged the scraps of the unwritten movements into a wild finale-cadenza; coming after waves of seriocomic catastrophes, it suggests a tramp scrambling from the mouth of banal death – old-style Paganinian virtuosity wearing musical hand-me-downs.

But this schizoid flavor also constitutes the sound of the concerto as well, which radiates layered skins like a sonic onion. The polymeters so characteristic of Ligeti's music from the 1980s onwards are brazenly present, especially in the concerto's first and final movements. Here the soloist is often lost in an illuminated mirrored hall, surrounded by musical doppelgangers moving at different speeds. Ligeti adds to the rhythmic and timbral layeredness an extraordinary mis-tuning of the ensemble; among other examples, a violin and viola must de-tune their strings to the natural harmonics of the double bass. The effect, amidst a harmony calculated to sound neither tonal nor atonal, manifests Ligeti's wish for a "glassy shimmering character" emanating "fragility and danger".

The second movement is another of Ligeti's mock-folk pieces, thirsting after the anonymous sincerity of Eastern European peasant song, but continually splintering into weird ironic homelessness; interspersed with botched variations of a modal melody Ligeti inserts delusional passages for ocarinas. The fourth movement's passacaglia is a terrifying tightening of the screw, its "Lento intenso" witnessing the slow rise of a chromatic scale through the entire ensemble; a procession of fearful quiet and violent outburst force a gravity on the whole work, turning surreal play into a sincere anxiety. The final movement's caustic, ruinous humor barely alleviates this new darkness, and by the time of the violinist's histrionic soliloquy, one gets the pervasive sensation that all is lost. But the effect is far more provocative than depressing, basking in paradox: how can something so radiant also be so black?

Source: Seth Brodsky (

György Ligeti (1923-2006)

♪ Violin Concerto (1993)

i. Praeludium: Vivacissimo luminoso – attacca
ii. Aria, Hoquetus, Choral: Andante con moto – attacca
iii. Intermezzo: Presto fluido
iv. Passacaglia: Lento intenso
v. Appassionato: Agitato molto

Christian Tetzlaff, violin

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln
Conductor: François-Xavier Roth

Cologne Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany, October 3, 2017

(HD 1080p)

Christian Tetzlaff has been one of the most sought-after violinists and most exciting musicians on the classical music scene for many years. "The greatest performance of the work I’ve ever heard", wrote Tim Ashley (The Guardian, May 2015) of his interpretation of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Daniel Harding.

Concerts with Christian Tetzlaff often turn into an existential experience for both the interpreter and the audience; suddenly old familiar works appear in a completely new light. In addition, he frequently turns his attention to forgotten masterpieces such as Joseph Joachim's Violin Concerto which he successfully championed, and he also attempts to bring important new works into the repertoire such as Jörg Widmann's Violin Concerto, which he premiered in 2013. He has an unusually extensive repertoire and performs approximately 100 concerts every year.

Born in Hamburg in 1966 and now living in Berlin with his family, there are three things that make this musician unique, aside from his astounding skill on the violin. He interprets the musical manuscript in a literal fashion, perceives music as a language, and views great works as narratives which reflect existential experiences. As obvious as it may sound, he brings an unusual approach in his daily concert routine.

Christian Tetzlaff tries to follow the manuscript as closely as possible – without regard for "performance tradition" and without indulging in the usual technical short-cuts on the violin – often allowing a renewed clarity and richness to arise in well-known works. As a violinist Tetzlaff tries to disappear from the music – paradoxically this makes his interpretations very personal.

Secondly, Christian Tetzlaff "speaks" through his violin. Like human speech, his playing comprises a wide range of expressive means and is not aimed solely at achieving harmoniousness or virtuosic brilliance.

Above all, however, he interprets the masterpieces of musical history as stories about first-hand experiences. The great composers have focused on intense feelings, great happiness and deep crises in their music; as a musician Christian Tetzlaff also explores the limits of feelings and musical expression. Many pieces deal with none other than life and death. Christian Tetzlaff's aim is to convey this to his audience.

Christian Tetzlaff played in various youth orchestras for many years. His teacher at the Lübeck University of Music was Uwe-Martin Haiberg, for whom musical interpretation was the key to mastering violin technique, rather than the other way round.

Christian Tetzlaff founded his own string quartet in 1994, and until now chamber music is still as important to him as his work as a soloist with and without the orchestra.

The Tetzlaff Quartett received the Diapason d'or in 2015, and the trio with sister Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt was nominated for a Grammy award. Christian Tetzlaff has also received numerous awards for his CD recordings, including the "Jahrespreis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik" in 2018, the "Diapason d'or" in July 2018 and the Midem Classical Award in 2017. The new  Ondine recording of Beethoven and Sibelius violin concertos with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Robin Ticciati is highly anticipated in autumn 2019.

Of special significance is his solo recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, which he has recorded for the third time and was released in September 2017. The Strad magazine praised this recording as "an attentive and lively answer to the beauty of Bach's solos".

Christian Tetzlaff plays a violin made by the German violin maker Peter Greiner and teaches regularly at the Kronberg Academy.


More photos

See also

Karol Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No.1 – Christian Tetzlaff, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major – Christian Tetzlaff, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi (HD 1080p)

Christian Tetzlaff: “I think Sibelius did for his century what Beethoven did for his”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.