Judging from the many camera flashes going off during the performance, and from the screams of the female fans at the end of it, not only was Brahms’ Violin Concerto new to many of the audience, but so was the experience of being in the austere surroundings of the Teatro di San Carlo. German-American violinist David Garrett enjoys breaking the mould, wearing a dark unbuttoned casual jacket, black sport trousers, suede boots. With his long blond hair gathered into a ponytail, he has all the flamboyant looks of a rock star, yet as soon he started playing, it was obvious that his flair also lies in the violin. It is not by chance that he plays the lead role in The Devil's Violinist, a 2013 film based on the life of Niccolò Paganini.

David Garrett © Thomas Sabo
David Garrett
© Thomas Sabo

Brahms’s concerto competes with Beethoven's for greatness; its technical difficulties for the soloist are demanding, with its large use of broken chords, fast scale passages and variations in rhythm. Garrett played it with impeccable technique and demonstrated that Brahms can be captivating for newcomers, contrasting the rugged outer movements with an Adagio that was like a sea of tranquility in its refined beauty. The opening movement Allegro was especially enjoyable, concluding with an extended cadenza by Fritz Kreisler rather than the original version by Joseph Joachim, the concerto's dedicatee. Garrett performed it with great self-confidence demonstrating a quite effortless virtuosity. His purity of tone in the upper registers and his swift, intense vibrato were impressive qualities of his playing.

Yutaka Sado, a former assistant to Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa, conducted the Orchestra of the Teatro di San Carlo, co-ordinating orchestra and virtuoso seamlessly. Garrett's flamboyant style and his sophisticated and expressive playing reinforced this close partnership with the orchestra. To roars of approval, Garrett offered an encore in the form of Paganini's version of The Carnival of Venice.

After the interval, Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony ended the concert with a blaze of glory as Sado exhibited his command of symphonic structure. The Eighth, which was for a time known as the “English”, is a carefree composition, full of traditional Bohemian melodies and rhythms, which Sado realised in a performance of great vibrancy. 

After an opening movement which contrasted solemnity and energy, the Adagio was rendered with a dreamy softness. Sado’s balancing of the orchestral textures and tempi in the Allegretto was outstanding and the final Allegro non troppo highlighted the punchy horns as protagonists, leading to a bucolic coda.