Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Performin' o' the Ligeti

I did make it down to NYC yesterday, just for the afternoon and evening (and also the inescapable late-night Metro North ride back). Ligeti, Bach, Schumann. Good concert.

Christian Tetzlaff wears round-lens glasses and looks kind of like a young professor when he's dressed to concertize, so watching him angle over & lean into his violin while rocking out on bizarre slashes of the Ligeti concerto is a neat sight. Actually, most of the piece is lyrical, though unconventionally so: a direct manifestation of Ligeti's oft-quoted nostalgia for a homeland that no longer exists. Tetzlaff is a fine emissary from that homeland.

The first few seconds of sound that comes out of the violin in this concerto, an electric tendril beaming in out of silence, is one of the most amazing noises ever composed. Echoing crickets of mistuned strings soon join in; from there it's a rougher, ryhtmically complex jaunt through the rest of the movement. The second movement is long, a set of variations on a folk song (I'm not sure if it's "real" or not) familiar from Ligeti's Musica Ricercare and woodwind Bagatelles. (It's the beautiful, gliding, slow one: track three here.) Here it's modally warped and set as, among other things, a chorale for ocarinas and slide whistles. I've thought this sounds odd on CD, but live it's a great effect. The third movement is a brisk meteor shower; the fourth an eerie harmonic canvas that breaks out into modernist slashing.

The last movement is again propulsive and rhythmic, folky in a post-Bartok kinda way. Right before the end Ligeti indicates that the soloist should perform a self-composed cadenza; Tetzlaff's was one of the most jaw-dropping things I've ever heard someone play. It's like he's got his instrument hooked up to an amp and a pedal and he keeps changing the sound and color and edge to his tone, plus he's going up and down the strings like mad. Whoever he sold his soul to in order to play like that, it was worth it.

Tetzlaff played an encore, too, after some minutes of applause; I think it was probably from Bartok's solo violin sonata. Even more than the cadenza, here was an uncanny display of line, sound, and texture, the music itself a dizzying buzz of a fast movement. Three more curtain calls there, which is great to see for something as chromatic and complex as that.

Schumann's Rhenish Symphony on the back half of the program was also great: hearty, colorful, conducted in vivid brushstrokes by Alan Gilbert. The second and fourth movements of the symphony are especially vibrant—a sturdy German dance and an evocation of the Cologne Cathedral featuring some memorably majestic work from the trombones and horns. I didn't really know this piece till listening to it in advance of the concert, so that's something substantial to take away from the experience.

Webern's arrangement of Bach's Ricercare from the Musical Offering was set before the Schumann, and was appropriately gentle and lonely. The wildly different Stokowski arrangement of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (that's the Fantasia one) opened the concert as more of a throwaway overture.

The acoustics at Avery Fisher Hall continue to confuse me; the reputation is that they're terrible, though I've heard a bunch of concerts there now and it seems to range from mediocre to actually pretty good. I had a student ticket in the second tier center last night, under the ceiling of the third tier; Bach/Stokowski and Ligeti in the first half were both damped down and a bit distant, but Bach/Webern was OK and the Schumann sounded fantastic from the same spot.


Blogger Pete said...

Man, woulda liked to see that concert.

3/20/2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

It's OK, it wasn't an irreplaceable experience or anything. I'm sure you can find plenty of modernist goings-on while you're in Berlin. There'll be a Pascal Dusapin opera being performed in June, for example.

3/21/2007 12:34 PM  

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