Fiery Mendelssohn and restrained Mahler from MTT, Tetzlaff and New World

By David Fleshler

Christian Tetzlaff performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the New World Symphony Saturday night.

Christian Tetzlaff performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the New World Symphony Saturday night.

A leading early Romantic composer was paired with perhaps the greatest composer of that period’s twilight for a concert Saturday night by the New World Symphony.

Led by artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas at New World Center in Miami Beach, the orchestra performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with soloist Christian Tetzlaff and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

Any attempt at an original interpretation of so familiar a work as the Mendelssohn concerto risks coming off as contrived, novelty for novelty’s sake. Yet Tetzlaff brought a fresh approach to the opening that gave it an unusually exciting, forward-moving quality.

Eschewing the sweetness and vulnerability many violinists aim for, he played with an almost demonic intensity–with a quick tempo, fast vibrato and sense of momentum that blazed up to the climactic ascending octaves. Not a one-note interpreter, Tetzlaff lessened the intensity as the movement went one, achieving a beguiling charm in the second theme, and then quickly took on the role of heroic protagonist with a sharp bite and dramatic edge in the fast passagework.

The cadenza leads to one of the concerto’s most memorable moments, as the orchestra enters with the main theme over rapid notes in the violin. Tetzlaff started off the bouncing arpeggios in such a sharp, high-powered manner, however, that it left him with no place to go as the music reached its climaxed

In the second movement, he played in a chaste manner in the opening theme, then achieved a hard-edged fierceness in the minor-key passage leading to ascending octaves.

Many violinists try to turn the last movement into a whirl of virtuosity. But Tetzlaff opted for an approach that was playful and clean, not marred by excessive speed, achieving the grace and transparency of the Mendelssohn of such works as the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture. As an encore, he played the Loure from Bach’s Partita for Violin in E Major, working his way through the melody and simultaneous tones in a free and meditative manner.

Michael Tilson Thomas. Photo: Spencer Lowell

Michael Tilson Thomas. Photo: Spencer Lowell

Tilson Thomas’ interpretations of the Mahler symphonies have long been highlights of the New World Symphony’s seasons. Although this performance of the Symphony No. 5 felt underpowered in some respects and lacking in the tempestuousness that characterizes Mahler’s music, there was still much to admire. The orchestra’s performance was virtually impeccable, in a difficult score that calls for virtuoso playing and bristles with exposed solo passages from trumpet, flute, bassoon and other instruments.

The opening funeral march was put across in as dead a tone as anyone is likely to hear in a live performance, with violins playing in a quiet, subdued manner that put more emphasis on the funeral than the march. Although this left the music feeling underpowered, lacking in rhythmic drive, it served to sharpen the contrast with the great brass playing in the opening, particularly the shining trumpet playing of Ansel Norris–penetrating, clarion, but never raw, with an overarching sensitivity to the shape of every phrase.

In the second movement, the unity and intensity of the string playing achieved that searing transparency so characteristic of Mahler’s music. In the Scherzo, the Viennese-flavored melodies came off with a sad, nostalgic quality, with the orchestra providing an effective burst of energy and grandeur in the close.

The Adagietto, the most famous single movement in all Mahler’s symphonies, is often performed as a stand-alone work, a sort of Viennese counterpart to the Barber Adagio for Strings. While some performances are too sentimental, Tilson Thomas’ came off as too restrained, falling short of the passion inherent in music intended as a love song to Mahler’s wife, Alma. The long passages that climaxed in broken chords in the violins didn’t have the sweep and fervor that this music requires.

The final movement was marked by more excellent playing in the brass instruments, as they came together for the final, affirmative anthem that ended the work.

The program will be repeated 2 p.m. Sunday at New World Center in Miami Beach.; 305-673-3331.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Fiery Mendelssohn and restrained Mahler from MTT, Tetzlaff and New World”

  1. Posted Jan 25, 2017 at 9:44 am by Mario

    Funny how everyone has different experiences…I have seen most MTT Mahler performances in South Florida and thought this one sounded pretty spectacular. I do agree that there was some holding back but the NWS would make Mahler proud. I did think, however, that the Mendelssohn was very predictable and puny sounding. This is probably because this piece is played yearly, far too many times and personally I’ve come to dislike it…with so many other Mendelssohn pieces yet unheard in South Florida. With all the repertoire available, I will think again before attending a concert with this piece. I’m taking bets right now as to how many times it will be played next year :).

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Sun Jan 22, 2017
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