Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major, the only one he ever composed, was given a stunning performance at the Opernhaus Zürich under conductor and new general music director, Gianandrea Noseda. As soloist, the Dutch-born Janine Jansen mastered the score’s tremendous demands, showing an easy affinity with the large contingent of house orchestra musicians who accompanied her.

Janine Jansen
© Lukas Beck | Wiener Konzerthaus

The concerto began peacefully, laying the ground for Jansen's expressive solo that progressively unfolded with more volume and speed, which sent her hair flying, and the audience gripping its seats. After one particularly complex interlude, a delicate, playful solo segment expressed pure innocence, almost like a single voice in a vast wilderness. From the pastoral and sentimental, to its equally dynamic expression, the score makes Olympian demands from the start, but Jansen unfailingly mastered them with grace, variation and commendable aplomb.

The Canzonetta started with a sombre clarinet solo, before the soloist’s line wound in and out of the tutti to tell its story. The Allegro vivacissimo finale began with a jolly folk dance, all the musicians pulling out the stops: oboe, clarinet, flute and bassoon expanding the animated conversation. In short, the performance was nothing short of brilliant, and the audience roared with applause, bringing Jansen back for more curtain calls (seven) than I have ever witnessed in the Zurich house. Noseda ran a tight ship, but moved like an able dancer while signalling his cues, his fine rapport with the soloist, with whom he's collaborated many times before, palpable.

Gianandrea Noseda
© Monika Rittershaus

Second on the programme was Anton Bruckner’s monumental Sixth Symphony. Some concertgoers have something of an anti-Bruckner bias, which Noseda may well have hoped to dispel. But what the Tchaikovsky had given us just prior – the orchestra’s seamless rendering of an enlightened score with a star soloist – was a hard act to follow by any standard, and so Bruckner’s Sixth after the interval failed to live up to that marker. While the symphony was regal and monumental, ebbed and grew, pouted, boomed and receded, it did all of the above again and again. The Philharmonia Zürich mastered the countless push-pulls tensions and releases of the dense score. Yet on the heels of the emotive Tchaikovsky, it suffered to a degree, seeming a sequence of countless tensions, repeated motifs and blatant bombast. Better, I think, would have been to perform the Tchaikovsky last, so as to be sent home on the resonant sounds of Jansen’s stellar violin. 

****1