Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dynamic duo

Holy musical virtuosi! It's Leif Ove Andsnes and Christian Tetzlaff! (Photo by Alexandra Vosding.)

What is that strange electricity that bonds sympathetic talents? Whatever it is, it crackled in Saturday night's Celebrity Series concert by Christian Tetzlaff and Leif Ove Andsnes, two brilliant performers (Tetzlaff on violin, Andsnes on piano) who held Jordan Hall in thrall through a demanding program of Janáček, Brahms, Mozart and Schubert. Andsnes is the larger star, but you wouldn't have guessed it from his committed sense of ensemble. Indeed, perhaps as a result of his generosity, the night belonged slightly more to Tetzlaff, whose luminous technique proved more flexible, and freely adaptable to that wide range of composers. It would be easy to say that their chemistry spills somewhat out of their opposed sensibilities - to put it rather crudely, Andsnes is earth, and Tetzlaff air - but that would be to ignore the near-telepathy of their dynamic (a dynamic between two obviously intelligent and sensitive young men). Or is that the essence of the mystery, right there? Opposed sensibilities in synchronicity? I think that may have to serve for the time being.

Certainly this opposition beautifully served the opening piece, Leoš Janáček's Sonata for Violin and Piano, which like much of Janáček welds folk idioms and a sophisticated, melancholic romance to an anxious sense of impending doom (and no wonder, the work was begun in 1914!). Andsnes's keyboard chimed and marched; Tetzlaff's bow skittered and cried - it was a superb performance, marred only by the fact that Andsnes's sound was a little large for the hall (and for Tetzlaff), and so threw off what might have been a perfect balance.

Did the pianist realize this himself? For whatever reason, balance problems were corrected for the next piece, a compelling reading of Brahms's Violin Sonata No. 3, driven by Andsnes's relentless rhythms. This - and the closing Schubert - were clearly the pianist's "home" territory. He's an intriguing musical personality: forceful, yet hard to pin down aside from the fact that his deliberate touch is unusually masculine, and classically thoughtful (almost ruminative, in fact). He's not, perhaps, a natural charmer - his Mozart Sonata was cleanly articulated, but not entirely convincing; Tetzlaff carried that one, with his light, startlingly agile attack, and his patented searing high notes falling into rushes of transparent feeling. But both were at their best, and perfectly matched, in the passions of the final Schubert Rondo, which all but brought the crowd to its feet. As encores, the duo tossed off two delightful numbers from Sibelius's suite of Danses champêtres (country dances), indicating that Mr. Andsnes can charm, after all, when he wants to.

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