First published in the Guardian on 19 December, 2014
Schumann’s Violin Concerto wasn’t premiered until 1937, when it was hijacked for Nazi propaganda eight decades after it was written. If the piece still has an awkward place in the repertory it’s easy enough to understand why: composed in his final years, this is Schumann at his most skittish, baffling and heartbreaking. Dark, urgent melodies go off in tangents that don’t behave how they should. The theme of the Adagio refuses to be tethered; the finale has a sad, stoic swagger and culminates in a desperate spasm of virtuosity.
Christian Tetzlaff is the kind of uninhibited, generous musician who could persuade you of just about anything. Playing with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Robin Ticciati, he threw himself into the concerto’s tumult and made its kinks sound essential. The solo lines are often too low to disentangle from the chunky ensemble textures (Hindemith rewrote several passages up an octave for the premiere) but Tetzlaff embraced the struggle and his dialogue with the orchestra was captivating. His encore had to be Bach – the Sarabande from the D-minor Partita, expressed in vivid, personal terms.
The concert opened with the Liebeslied for Eight Instruments (2010) by Jorg Widmann, a composer deeply enamoured with Schumann. It was great to hear the SCO bring their spry thrust and poise to recent music, though the woman next to me stuffed tissue paper in her ears until the piece was finished. The concert closed with Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, the ‘Drum Roll’. Ticciati’s current fascination for Haydn was evident in the way he attentively shaped each line, revelled in the oddities (those cheeky pauses, those quirky phrase lengths) and really sank into the outdoorsy charm of the Andante and Trio. He always gets the charismatic best from this orchestra.