Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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

German violinist Christian Tetzlaff performs Karol Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35, with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the Finnish conductor and cellist Susanna Mälkki (b. 1969, Helsinki). The concert was recorded in Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Centre), Concert Hall, on May 10, 2019.

The eighteen-month period from March 1881 to October 1882 saw the birth of three creative giants in Eastern Europe: Béla Bartók in Hungary, Igor Stravinsky in Russia, and Karol Szymanowski in Poland, who, though less renowned, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. All three were trained in the waning days of a romantic musical nationalism; all went on to redefine this nationalism, moving from an essentially nostalgic use of folk materials to an exploration of their potential to shape an expressive vocabulary at once primitive and avant-garde. Together with writers and visual artists, Szymanowski formed part of the Young Poland movement, which, not surprisingly, offended the more conservative establishment; as a 1907 commentary in The Warsaw Courier put it: the Young Poland composers were "possessed by some evil spirit that deprived their work and stripped it of personal and national characteristics".

Szymanowski's attitude toward "national characteristics" was more nuanced: "Let our music be national in its Polish characteristics but not falter in striving to attain universality. Let it be national, but not provincial". His own lack of provincialism is not surprising; born to a wealthy family, he traveled all over Europe and North Africa. Like many artists, he found aesthetic resonance in pre-World War I Paris, reflecting after a 1914 stint: "I shall never cease in the conviction [that] a true and deep understanding of French music, of its content, its form, and its further evolution, is one of the conditions for the development of our Polish music".

Notwithstanding Szymanowski's cosmopolitan outlook, his First Violin Concerto reveals homegrown roots. It was conceived as a vehicle for Polish violinist Paul Kochanski (though exigencies of the Bolshevik Revolution and World War I caused a change in date, venue, and soloist for the premiere) and inspired by a poem by a member of the Young Poland writers' group, Tadeusz Micinski (1873-1918):

All the birds pay tribute to me
for today I wed a goddess.
And now we stand by the lake in crimson blossom
in flowing tears of joy, with rapture and fear,
burning in amorous conflagration.

The intense, imagistic lines reveal the overlapping influences of Orientalism and French symbolism and set the stage for an intense and eclectic musical style unconfined by conventional formal procedures: "There is much that is new", expressed the composer, "but also something of a return to the old".

The Concerto's five movements are played without a pause, but there is a kind of architectural symmetry created by the alternation of three vivace movements with more relaxed ones. The opening Vivace assai establishes the central elements, an exotic landscape within which the violin plays. Celesta, harp, woodwinds, and percussion animate this landscape; the violin emerges with a slow, ethereal melody with a melodic contour based on eastern scales. "The sound is so magical that people here were completely transfixed", Szymanowski wrote to Kochanski after the premiere, adding: "and just imagine, Pawelczek, the violin comes out on top the whole time!" This is true both figuratively and literally, as the high register of the instrument shimmers above the ensemble throughout. After a dramatic orchestral buildup, we move seamlessly into the Andantino, which features lustrous cascading lines for both soloist and orchestra.

The central Vivace scherzando lasts just over a minute of perpetual motion surrounding a sweeping violin section, after which the Allegretto changes the atmosphere back to a more introspective one. This time the sinuous Oriental lines have acquired a bluesy feel. The last movement features rhapsodic solo passages that build to a spectacularly romantic climax before returning to a contemplative nocturnal world and an ending that is suggestive and a bit mysterious. Like everything else in the piece, it is highly original and leaves us certain that, whether or not we understand it completely, the work is a masterpiece.

Source: Susan Key (

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

♪ Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35 (1916)

i. Vivace assai
ii. Tempo comodo – Andantino
iii. Vivace scherzando
iv. Poco meno – Allegretto
v. Vivace (Tempo I)

Christian Tetzlaff, violin

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Susanna Mälkki

Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Centre), Concert Hall, May 10, 2019

(HD 720p)

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

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

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

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

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