Despite Teztlaff’s epic fail, Orpheus shines in Hungarian season finale
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra wrapped up their 41st season on Saturday at Carnegie Hall. After more than four decades, their conductorless experiment is as vibrant as ever, as they showed in an all-Hungarian program. On Saturday, they might have been better off without a soloist, as well.
The second half of their program was a rarity, Joseph Joachim’s Violin Concerto No. 2, “In the Hungarian Style.” Aside from being the dedicatee of Brahms’ Violin Concerto, Joachim is mostly remembered for rescuing the Beethoven Violin Concerto from oblivion and restoring it to its rightful place in the musical pantheon. Tetzlaff performed no such feat with Joachim’s Second.
The concerto is closer in spirit to the concerti of Joachim’s fellow violinist-composers Wieniawski and Paganini than it is to those of Beethoven and Brahms. Lacking in musical depth, it relies on its extreme degree of difficulty to dazzle audiences—When the technical component is a mess, there’s not much left to enjoy.
Tetzlaff has had a few rough-and-tumble performances in New York in the last few years, and Saturday unfortunately did not mark a return to form. After landing flat on the second note of his entrance, the German violinist showed intensity of tone and musical sensitivity in his opening phrases. From there, everything was downhill.
His burnished tone evaporated and gave way to a scratchy, pressed sound. It was impossible to concentrate on what he was doing musically, because his myriad technical problems were extremely distracting—Extraneous noises and shoddy intonation were constants, and a number of passages were faked outright. Orpheus had an awful time following him, not so much because he was being metrically adventurous, but because it was difficult to tell where he was.
The second movement Romanze was likewise out of tune despite its slower tempo. Tetzlaff’s swooping phrasing smothered the lyricism in seasick ups and downs. The finale, “alla Zingara,” begins with a perpetual motion feel, and in Tetzlaff’s rendition it sounded perpetually on the brink of disaster. He seemed to be laboring just to get to the end, much less make musical sense of the piece. The leisurely dance sections that break up the scramble, written with puckish charm, were choked by Tetzlaff’s crunching sound.
Tetzlaff’s encore, Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 19—with orchestral accompaniment—provided no relief—pecky, out of tune, and out of sync.
The first half of the program proved more successful, though it lacked the musical muscle of some of Orpheus’s concerts from earlier this season. Kodály’s Hungarian Rondo began the evening with folksy fire. As ever, Orpheus demonstrated remarkable unity in their musical ideas, despite not having a single leader.
A moving account of Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings brought out the brilliant colors of the first movement with an impeccable balance between earthy roughness and cold steel. The second movement, a Molto Adagio that can easily slip into wandering eeriness, was remarkably focused. The music was desolate, as it should be, but even when the orchestra sat just above a whisper, there was intensity behind the sound.
A heavy approach brought an apt raucous feel to the feverish finale, and again Orpheus’s playing hinted at emotional significance below the dancing surface. Even in the playful pizzicato-glissando section, there was a hint of menacing sarcasm that tinged the celebratory atmosphere with unease.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season at Carnegie Hall will feature premieres of commissions by Timothy Andres and Fazil Say, with solo appearances by Jonathan Biss, Jennifer Koh, and Augustin Dumay. orpheusnyc.com