The Dvořák Violin Concerto has often been overshadowed by its later sibling for cello. The former is assuredly a thorny prospect for any violinist: though lengthy, serious and full of hair-raising technical challenges, it also needs a good deal of charm and lilt in its furiant-based final movement. As a whole, one can sometimes feel it hesitates to nail its colours to a mast – not least, every movement’s tempo marking is moderated by a “ma non troppo”. But in this impressive release Christian Tetzlaff, that pre-eminent violinist whose artistry is rigorous, dazzling and wide-ranging in expression, goes a good way towards fulfilling the work’s potential.
Partnered by the sprightly baton of John Storgårds and the clear-toned precision of the Helsinki Philharmonic, Tetzlaff accentuates the concerto’s dramatic qualities, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the declamatory determination of the first movement and the intense lyricism of the slow movement. In the finale, the seriousness is not very much dispelled – there’s a certain edginess to it, even a hint of aggression here and there – but then, the marking is Allegro giocoso ma non troppo (playful, but not too much...) – and the music’s irresistible rhythmic swing and immediacy of atmosphere never fails.
The recording opens with the Fantasy Op.24 by Josef Suk, Dvorák’s pupil and later son-in-law. Perhaps even more than his mentor, Suk was willing to push at the boundaries of form and content, his works culminating in the gigantic Asrael Symphony, a devastating, funereal work named after the angel of death. The Fantasy too has a sense of narrative progression, though no specific programme: its ideas flow quickly and plentifully, but arguably without cohering into a fully satisfying whole. Tetzlaff is nevertheless superb at characterising and contrasting its various episodes, always eloquent in tone and responding vividly to its shifting drama.
Dvorák’s early F minor Romance makes a beautiful conclusion – a touching, reflective piece full of that peculiarly Czech smiling-through-tears melancholy. Tetzlaff’s tone is gorgeous and he embraces the subtlety and wistfulness of the work’s emotional world, the orchestra supporting him with shimmer and soul.
Jessica Duchen’s music journalism has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is the author of a number of novels (most recently Ghost Variations, published in 2016), biographies and plays. Current projects include an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004.
Rating: Performance: four stars Sound: four stars
Dvořák: Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 53; Romance in F minor, Op.11; Suk: Fantasy in G minor, Op.24 Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds Ondine ODE1279-5