Violinist Tetzlaff dazzles fans

Janelle Gelfand
January 29, 2013

The German violinist Christian Tetzlaff is known for his electrifying performances that seamlessly join both mind and heart. On Monday, he presented a solo recital for unaccompanied violin that raised the bar of the art form to a new level.

Tetzlaff presented a challenging program for Chamber Music Cincinnati consisting of sonatas by Eugene Ysaye, J.S. Bach and Bartok, as well as short pieces by Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag. It was a triumphant and exhausting survey that must have called upon all of his mental reserves – not to mention the prowess required to master one fiendishly difficult technical hurdle after another.

The concert quickly sold out Werner Recital Hall at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Tetzlaff’s appearance was anticipated by those in the audience who still remember when he was an 18-year-old student there. He spent a year studying with Walter Levin of the LaSalle Quartet in 1985-86.

Now a youthful 46, the violinist strode out and plunged without fanfare into Ysaye’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. Much of Tetzlaff’s program was woven together by a thread of Bach. Ysaye, one of the greatest violin virtuosos who ever lived (and former music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra), evoked Bach’s G Minor solo sonata in his first sonata, referring to Bach in each movement.

The tone that Tetzlaff projected on his modern Greiner violin was both intense and intensely beautiful. He navigated stunning feats, such as dazzling runs, arpeggios and left-hand pizzicati, with effortless precision and control. The third movement, a playful allegretto, was a model of expressive beauty and delicacy, and its melody was clear even when surrounded by the most elaborate filigree.

J.S. Bach’s Sonata in C Major, which followed, was mesmerizing for the violinist’s pure tone, flawless technique and depth of his artistry. So clear and precise was the extensive fugue, it was almost hard to believe that this was just one instrument. He occasionally dug into a string to emphasize a phrase, yet his sound was never harsh. The Largo was intimate and deeply felt, and the violinist took his time to project its melodic beauty.

The Allegro was as breathtaking for its lightness as it was for its exhilarating pyrotechnics. Yet, despite his virtuosity, the violinist never called attention to himself. It was all for the music. (I highly recommend his recording of the Sonatas and Partitas on the Hänssler label.)

After intermission, Tetzlaff returned with short modern pieces from Kurtag’s “Signs, Games and Messages” (1989-2004), including “Hommage à J.S. Bach,” In Memoriam Tomás Blum” and “Zank-Kromatisch.” The violinist called upon a range of colors and moods, from ethereal phrases that barely sounded, to an exuberant display using the open strings.

Tetzlaff brought his journey full circle with Bartok’s Sonata for Solo Violin, an homage to Bach’s C Major Sonata. He projected a big, rich sound in the rhapsodic phrases of the first movement, and concluded the second movement, “Fuga,” with an upward glissando that caused an audible gasp in the audience. His pure, white tone in the slow “Melodia” offered a bleak contrast. The violinist closed his eyes and moved little as he brought its melody into the stratosphere, before tackling the diabolical fireworks of the finale.

With his bow flying, Tetzlaff capped his tour-de-force with a lightning-quick performance of Paganini’s Caprice No. 16. The noble simplicity of the Andante from J.S. Bach’s A Minor Sonata was a moving conclusion.