Teztlaff’s stylish Dvorak lifts a mixed program at Grant Park

Thu Aug 05, 2010 at 4:17 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Christian Teztlaff performed Dvorak’s Violin Concerto Wednesday night with Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra. Photo: Norman U. Timonera.

The meteorological gods smiled on the Grant Park Music Festival again Wednesday night. With the day’s rainy weather moving out, the cloudy skies serendipitously parted a half-hour before concert time making a pleasant backdrop for Carlos Kalmar’s return.

It’s too bad the program was a one-nighter, since it provided one of the finest solo performances of the summer and offered a worthy take on an offbeat Shostakovich symphony, which likely would have benefited from a second outing.

Christian Teztlaff has practically been an honorary Chicago citizen this past season. The German violinist performed Bach’s complete solo fiddle works last October, Brahms with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in April, and was back to tackle the Dvorak Violin Concerto Wednesday night.

Dvorak composed one great concerto (for cello) one good one (for violin) and one not-so-good one (for piano). But so stylish and compelling was Tetzlaff’s take on the Czech composer’s Violin Concerto that he almost had you believing it was a semi-neglected masterpiece.

Dispensing with his spectacles and formal concert garb, Teztlaff, clad in black slacks and T-shirt, looked more like a wiry athlete than a classical violinist, minus his usual scholarly demeanor.

Yet he brought to the Dvorak concerto an engaging mix of tensile strength and lyric spontaneity. Tetzlaff’s dramatic point and vitality helped skirt the weaknesses of the unwieldy first movement, and the violinist eased into Dvorak’s lyrical melodies in idiomatic style. The Adagio was especially inspired, with the lovely main theme floated by Tetzlaff with touching tenderness, the simple expression all the more affecting for the lack of heavy vibrato.

Kalmar and the Grant Park musicians provided their soloist with superb support, especially in the bravura finale. With Teztlaff bringing a physical intensity to the virtuosic writing, Kalmar artfully underlined the ingenuity of Dvorak’s writing in the varied reappearances of the folk-flavored main theme.

After World War II, Stalin and his Soviet cultural commissars expected a victorious Ninth Symphony, a la Beethoven, from Dmitri Shostakovich, and were less than ecstatic at the result. Cast in five short movements, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 is a strange amalgam, veering from lightly satiric to deeply pessimistic and hardly the triumphant work the Soviets wanted.

Kalmar certainly had the sense of the jokey opening movement, bringing out the schizoid off-kilter humor. In the hard-driving finale, Kalmar’s sharp-edged direction made manifest that this music is more fraught with frenetic desperation than light-hearted ebullience.

Eric Hall’s bassoon solo unerringly captured the bleak desolation of the Largo, but the wind playing elsewhere was largely undistinguished, particularly in the second movement with some bland, literal solos that made little of the music’s expressive opportunities.

Someone at Grant Park has a sense of humor, programming John Adams’ Lollapalooza to open the evening the same week that the titular rock festival forces the orchestra underground to the Harris Theater.

Adam’s riff has the rhythmic drive and contrapuntal ingenuity one would expect, with the main five-note theme echoing the work’s title. But Wednesday’s opener felt under-rehearsed and a bit too careful, lacking swagger and bite. Whether a technical issue or not, balances seemed off, with the strings virtually inaudible throughout the five-minute piece.

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Comment