Germany Brahms, Enescu, Webern, and Franck: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Alexander Lonquich (piano). Pierre Boulez Saal, Berlin, 16.11.2019. (MB)
Brahms – Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op.100
Enescu – Violin Sonata No.2 in F minor, Op.6
Webern – Four Pieces for violin and piano, Op.7
Franck – Violin Sonata in A major, FWV 8
What could be more satisfying than a comprehending performance of a Brahms masterwork? Nothing—and this was certainly that. Intimate yet not withdrawn, the opening of the first movement to the A major Violin Sonata—and much else besides—always had much bubbling beneath the surface, sometimes bubbling over, even erupting. Shifting balances between violin (Christian Tetzlaff) and piano (Alexander Lonquich) were managed almost as if this were the work of one player rather than two: a true partnership. Apparent simplicity soon revealed complexity, balance between melody and harmony, horizontal and vertical finely judged, likewise ever shifting. Formal concision and expression were two sides of the same coin. An ‘Andante tranquillo’ whose lyricism again encompassed harmony as much as melody proved the perfect foil for a Vivace section whose shadow games spoke not only of playful melancholy but also the melancholy of play. This second movement’s through-composition was truly felt and expressed, no mere structural ‘feature’. Metrical dislocation in the finale, as elsewhere, told without the slightest exaggeration. Once again, line, tempo, and mood were perfectly judged for music as intense, in its own way, as anything in Schoenberg and as deeply indebted to Beethoven, as revealed here, as anything Brahms wrote. Such things need not be shouted from the rooftops, especially with Brahms.
George Enescu’s 1899 Second — again of three — Violin Sonata was next on the programme, in a similarly absorbing performance. Its first movement, ‘Assez mouvementé’, began to speak from another shadow world with similar command of line, both aspects related to what we had heard in Brahms yet also distinct. Lonquich wore formidable technical demands lightly and without sentimentality, with an elegance one might consider Gallic. Such demands revealed rather than concealed underlying harmonic rhythm. Tetzlaff likewise made light of what he was asked to do, simplicity of utterance, not contrivance, the order of the day. The lyrical trade of the second movement offered something similarly distinctive. ‘Brahms with a French accent’ would sell it quite short, yet as a starting point in this particular recital, it may yet have served a purpose. Here, as elsewhere, contours were expertly, meaningfully shaped. The finale proved as rigorous as it was passionate, the idiom of Enescu’s strange ‘Romanticism’ — I think one may just about call it that — judged to a tee. Equally fine in judgement was Tetzlaff’s witty sign-off, too consequential merely to be nonchalant, yet momentarily, partially suggestive of that.
If I have heard a superior concert-hall Webern Four Pieces then I must have forgotten — which seems unlikely. Without apparent effort, art concealing art, Tetzlaff imparted such meaning to his opening perfect fourth (double-stopped), that by the time Lonquich’s piano chord responded, one might almost have reached the end of a conventional first thematic group. The nine bars of the first piece present an entire drama of their own and were presented as such. Webern’s second piece emerged as a scherzo on acid, each note again the equivalent to a hundred in so much other music. The third announced itself as a drama of pitch and proceeded to be a drama of much else too, almost a Mahlerian world in itself. As in Beethoven, as in Brahms, a Webern finale’s victory needs to be won — and how it was here. All composer and performers asked was that we listen; it is difficult to imagine why, in circumstances so propitious, anyone would have declined.
For the final work on the programme we returned to A major, to César Franck’s Violin Sonata. What struck me most clearly from this sympathetic, refined, often ardent performance was, without disregard to certain affinities, the very different nature of Franck’s formal concerns here. The danger — I am not sure any performance can entirely avoid it — is that the music begins to speak with a certain sameness. Whatever the truth of my suspicion, Tetzlaff and Lonquich made a valiant attempt, not through overt effort to be ‘different’, but by attending to different character between movements, by greater yet far from unrelieved intensification in the second and third, and finally by presenting a finale that balanced developmental and cyclical demands. It certainly did not stand still. Nor did the subtle, well-nigh Goethian tragedy — major mode conclusion notwithstanding — of the encore, the final movement from Brahms’s G major Violin Sonata. My only regret was that we had not heard the entire work; next time, perhaps.