Tetzlaff, Zinman reach back to play Beethoven

November 08, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Baltimore Symphony music director David Zinman occasionally gets to work with pianists who share his ideas about Beethoven's symphonic music. But it was not until last night in Meyerhoff Hall that one got to hear what might happen if this conductor worked with a like-minded violinist.

The violinist was Christian Tetzlaff, and the performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto that resulted was as wonderful as it was refreshing. As Zinman has, the young German violinist has clearly been influenced by recent scholarship about performance practice in the classical era. He used less vibrato than one customarily hears in performances of this music; he used less of the bow; and his tempos were brisk.

Zinman and the orchestra accompanied Tetzlaff in much the way they perform the Beethoven symphonies -- using the composer's fast metronome markings as a guide (not as holy writ), employing less vibrato, creating lighter textures and making phrases with a good deal of spacing between the notes. Listening to the performance last night was a little like that of seeing a familiar painting by an old master immediately after it had been cleaned. The brilliance of the draftsmanship was more obvious, the colors were more striking and -- perhaps most important of all -- it was impossible to take for granted.

There was also nothing academic about Tetzlaff's playing; it had real personality and a sense of vivid involvement. His musical line was natural and unforced. And while his basic approach to the concerto could be called classical, it was also -- particularly in the first movement -- fiercely dramatic. His reading of the slow movement had a sustained, if gentle, intensity. And while his articulation in the final movement was impressively nimble, he kept the focus on the work's lyricism.

The violinist used the cadenzas that Beethoven wrote for his transcription of the work as a piano concerto. In the first movement cadenza -- in which the composer throws in a timpani part to dazzling effect -- the violinist was accompanied with confidence and wit by Dennis Kain.

The program opened with an impressive "Egmont" overture and concluded with Zinman leading a terrific performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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