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A Musical Conversation Between Friends

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
02/02/2009 -  
Leos Janácek: Sonata for Violin and Piano
Johannes Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Violin Sonata in F Major, K. 377
Franz Schubert: Rondo in B Minor, D. 895

Christian Tetzlaff (Violin), Leif Ove Andsnes (Piano)

C. Tetzlaff & L. O. Andsnes (© Richard Termine)

Christian Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes often appear in Carnegie Hall, sometimes alone in recital, and sometimes together. When they appear together, they don’t come as virtuoso and accompanist – as the big star and what’s his name? They come as peers and collaborators. And they come as friends. On Monday evening, the two friends provided a most extraordinary musical experience. They did not perform in the conventional sense, playing music at us. Instead, they explored the essence of the music and allowed it to unfold, all the while drawing us into its magic and mystery. It was an intense and often spellbinding experience.

What gifted artists these two men are! Tetzlaff made his violin sing with such a range of colors that it often seemed as if there had to be a string section playing along, and not just a lone violin. Indeed, the second movement of the Mozart sonata sounded almost like a piano concerto with string orchestra. Andsnes has such a delicate touch, with his flying finger work, technical mastery, and beauty of tone. He does not flog the keys, he caresses them.

These are not flashy music makers. Tetzlaff struck no virtuoso poses. Indeed, his body scarcely moved, except for his feet. He stood on his toes and rocked from side to side, as if his feet wanted to break away from their owner’s restraint and dance to the music. For within these musicians’ restraint was great depth of feeling. When the music grew intense, as it did in the first movement of the Brahms sonata, the effect was as powerful as it was authentic.

The program began with Janácek’s dark and turbulent Sonata for Violin and Piano (the only one of three to survive), written as World War I was drawing the European continent into its grip of darkness and death. The mood was correspondingly grim, but there was grace and enchanting lyricism in the folk-like theme of the second movement, the ballata. Tetzlaff’s lyrical violin line floated above the rippling piano accompaniment until the music finally subsided, as if in a dream.

Brahms wrote chamber music for much of his life. He was both a chamber music player and a composer in Vienna. The Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor was his only violin sonata with four movements. The second movement’s adagio was infused with gypsy elements – Brahms adored gypsy music – and Tetzlaff’s long lyrical lines were both poignant and gorgeous. The piano and violin were equal partners.

Mozart wrote his Violin Sonata in F Major as part of a set, for Josepha von Auernhammer, an amateur violinist. Tetzlaff made his violin sing, and Andsnes played with superb technique as his fingers flew up and down the scales. The musicians were collaborative and conversational. Their music-making, particularly in the ethereally delicate second movement, written as a theme and variations, was extraordinary.

Although Schubert’s Rondo in B Minor is a product of his artistic maturity, he was still quite young (only twenty-nine) when he wrote it. It was one of the few pieces that was actually performed by virtuoso musicians during his lifetime. Most of the others were written for and played by amateurs. The work does not appear often on concert programs and it is technically quite difficult. As performed on Monday evening, it was joyous, animated, and, at times, a veritable invitation to dance. It gave Tetzlaff’s feet quite a workout!

Tetzlaff and Andsnes did not so much play together as converse. This was especially true in the Brahms and Mozart sonatas. Throughout the evening, the audience was enthralled, and when the Schubert piece had ended, most reluctant to let them go. After three encores – Danses champêtres No. 2 and 5 by Sibelius, and Perpetuum mobile from Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano – they finally did.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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