This concert came midway through the LSO’s International Violin Festival, which over the course of several months sees an array of the world’s finest violinists visiting the Barbican with some of the most-beloved works in the repetoire. Sunday evening’s concert saw Christian Tetzlaff performing Beethoven.

Christian Tetzlaff © Georgia Bertazzi
Christian Tetzlaff
© Georgia Bertazzi
I have always found Beethoven’s Violin Concerto to be a challenging work, to the extent that I find myself agreeing with its first audience who, according to contemporary reports, found it contained ‘beautiful passages but… the context often seems broken and the endless repetition of unimportant passages produces a tiring effect’.

The first movement, which opens mystically with five beats of the timpani, has always felt particularly inaccessible. My preconceptions about the piece made Tetzlaff’s performance all the more revelatory. Both Harding and Tetzlaff brought an intensity to the opening movement that leant a tautness to the overall structure of the piece. There was still a suitable air of serenity, in this most serene of Beethoven concerti, but the passion Tetzlaff injected into his solo passages ensured that the frequent presentations of the theme did not feel repetitive. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Tetzlaff plays on a modern instrument, which on Sunday night projected beautifully throughout the sometimes dry acoustic of the Barbican.

The second movement’s theme and variations were played with warmth and elegance. Tetzlaff’s pianissimo entry was bravely quiet, and the simplicity of his playing avoided sentimentalising the music. Harding whipped the orchestra into a rustic frenzy for the finale, emphasising the pastoral elements of this movement. Tetzlaff’s playing was not quite so gutsy and there was a slight disconnect between him and the orchestra for the first time in the piece. Otherwise, it was a magnetic performance; Tetzlaff’s own transcriptions of the cadenzas Beethoven provided for his Piano Concerto adaptation of the work made for an interesting addition to the piece.

With the LSO on top form, Brahms’ German Requiem should have been a moving conclusion to the concert. Unfortunately the LSO Chorus failed to bring the same intensity and dedication to the piece as we had witnessed in the Beethoven before the interval. The choir felt under-confident during the delicate opening movement and their sound was rather lacklustre. I found myself waiting for the first big climax in the piece that occurs towards the end of the second movement, hoping this would inject some vigour into the performance. After an unengaging opening movement, the steady march-like pace of the second felt monotonous and plodding. A large choir is certainly necessary to match Brahms’ orchestration however this renders the fugal finales of the third and sixth movements particularly challenging. Whilst there was accuracy and balance between the parts during these, there was a significant lack of shaping and character.

The performance was considerably enhanced by the two soloists – Sally Matthews (a last-minute replacement) and Matthias Goerne. The baritone solos were particularly special, Goerne performed injected real passion into the words and delivered almost operatic level of performance, performing without a score and moving around his small section of the stage. Unfortunately the fate of this performance was in the hands of the choir and despite displaying some fire in the penultimate movement, I was ultimately unmoved. 

***11