The viola is a rich and sumptuous instrument and the French violist Antoine Tamestit brings to his ingenuity in a fresh and brilliant manner. In Amsterdam’s majestic Concertgebouw on a lush spring evening, Tamestit performs the Bartók Viola Concerto with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra (NedPhO) under the baton of Andrew Litton. From the first note, he adds a touch of magic as he fills the hall with an inviting flourish before wandering into the depths of Bartokian fantasy. The full-bodied robust sound of the NedPhO complements this whole-heartily. Tamestit connects well on so many levels and it’s no wonder, when you consider that he is as much in demand as a soloist as in chamber music. He has that chamber music-like approach to playing a concerto that is a plain to see and truly inspiring. He offers us a particularly rich full spectrum of the viola’s capabilities and really makes that viola sing.
In the orchestra, there are so many rich colours. Bassoon and lower strings bring some haunting moments with a motif in playful dialogue with the clarinets who pass on the motif before it dies away. The silence is breath-taking at the general pause before re-emerging on a soft glittering soundscape. Shimmering upper strings with humming basses tickle the senses, while the back-and-forth between stabbing and tender passages is excellently executed. Fast movement comes with witty wind sections interjecting. Rustic drone basses are supplied by the lower strings with Tamestit’s viola on flageolets, evoking light-hearted scenes of merriment. This is clearly inspired by Bartok’s time in America – he composed the concerto while living in Saranac Lake, New York in July 1945 and left incomplete sketches by the time he died of leukaemia later the same year. This almost Copland-like Americana plays out until a confident and punchy ending. We are left in awe!
In the true spirit of a versatile musician, Tamestit treats us to an encore from the 44 duos by Bartók, together with the orchestra leader. This sharing of the podium at his moment of glory is symbolic of how well he communicates, is in constant dialogue and fits in with the orchestra on multiple dimensions.
There is little doubt that Currentzis has strived to make Mozart’s ‘Da Ponte’ operas sound as fresh as possible. The conductor’s faith in Mozart’s music and its relevance, after all, is evident: ‘Mozart is always contemporary, always modern’.