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S & H Concert Review

Beethoven & Tchaikovsky, Julian Rachlin (violin), Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt, Royal Festival Hall, Sunday 25 April 2004 (AN)

 

There was more than the interval that divided the performances of the Beethoven violin concerto and Tchaikovsky symphony. The term that defines best this profound difference is, simply put, sincerity. Where Blomstedt’s Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra played from the heart and breathed life and excitement into Tchaikovsky’s tragic masterpiece, Rachlin’s execution was contrived and dull.

Lithuanian-born Julian Rachlin is obviously a very talented violinist. A former student of the Vienna Conservatory, he was taught by the eminent Pinchas Zukerman and shot to fame when he won the Young Musician of the Year Award. He has collaborated with the best orchestras and conductors, records for the prestigious Sony label and plays on a beautiful Guarnerius del Gesù (the 1741 ‘ex Carrodus’).

So with all this wealth of experience, why did Rachlin’s performance of the Beethoven concerto ring so untrue?

The opening orchestral introduction was precise and powerfully contrasted. Rachlin’s solo entry emerged delicately out of the preceding orchestral fabric and sustained a calm composure and economical vibrato against Blomstedt’s animated baton. As the movement progressed, however, Rachlin failed to state his independence as soloist and virtuoso, instead opting for an affected tenderness and sensitivity whose identity was marked by a frustratingly weak and flaccid sound quality.

Beethoven's violin concerto is a heavily scalic conception, but Rachlin made the mistake of apologising for this tendency with his own inappropriate musical pretensions. An overtly introspective Larghetto, for instance, was overpowered by a grounded orchestral voice and it is extremely telling that the most successful passages were the ones to the sound of light pizzicato accompaniment, or none at all (in the excellent first and final movement cadenzas).

Even in the Rondo, the solo violin was swallowed up by the infinitely bolder Leipzig Gewandhaus battalion. Instead of challenging Blomstedt’s forces with the attitude and obstinacy that the assertive role of soloist demands, Rachlin became the impoverished victim of his excessively fragile musical artifice.

Tchaikovsky’s tremendous Fourth symphony, on the other hand, was brilliantly executed. The terrifying ‘fate theme’ fanfare resounded throughout the first movement with increasing menace but the strings stood their ground with undaunted spirit and strength of character: bows piled on thick for the turbulent emotional fluctuations and the ‘cellos made a particularly dazzling occasion of their prominent melodic lines. Blomstedt maintained a flexibility of tempo alongside the tightly knit textures and his enthusiasm at the podium was heightened by terrific timing and anticipation from the meticulously crafted orchestral palette.

A poignantly-nuanced solo oboe launched the tenderly nostalgic Andantino that lingered on melodic musings that Blomstedt was careful not to overindulge. Gestures were honest and emotions were genuinely felt. The pizzicato Scherzo was inspired, with unrelenting commitment to articulative precision and dynamic energy. Congratulations in particular to the piccolo who met the challenge of the notoriously difficult solo ornamentation with masterly ease and charm.

And there could be no better finale than the Allegro con fuoco, with its furious cymbal-clash salvo. Blomstedt and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra celebrated the sound and passion of a piece that manoeuvred from seductive tunes to frantic scrambling to the ominous ‘fate-theme’ fanfare.

Here was a presentation of Tchaikovsky’s labour of love that went beyond the confines of the score and spoke directly to the heart.

Aline Nassif


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