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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds


Christian Tetzlaff’s approach to Shostakovich’s Violin Concertos is rather different from that of their dedicatee, David Oistrakh. Whereas Oistrakh deploys full-blooded tone, a wide dynamic range and often intense vibrato, Tetzlaff’s sound is much leaner and more introverted.

The contrast is most striking in the First Concerto’s Nocturne, where first impressions suggest Tetzlaff as cool and withdrawn when compared to the anxiety and edginess of Oistrakh. Yet I find Tetzlaff’s interpretation no less riveting, invoking as it does the nightmarish image of frozen stillness and numbness of expression first encountered in Shostakovich’s output in the opening movement of the Sixth Symphony. John Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic are exceptionally responsive partners in this vivid recording. They draw out all the evocative colours from Shostakovich’s orchestration, in particular the chilling moment halfway through the movement where the pungent held note on tuba and tam-tam sends shivers down the spine. There are moments in the First Concerto’s Scherzo and Burlesque where Tetzlaff could perhaps afford to be more unbuttoned and revel in the sheer grotesquerie of Shostakovich’s writing. But the Cadenza is expertly handled, Tetzlaff negotiating the difficult transitions in tempo with complete conviction and technical brilliance.

Tetzlaff’s stoicism, clarity of vision and architectural mastery pay even greater dividends in the more emotionally elusive Second Concerto. The longish first movement can sometimes sound discursive and lacking in direction. Yet Tetzlaff and Storgårds keep a tight grip on proceedings, building inexorably to a frenzied climax in the middle section.


Erik Levi