Christian Tetzlaff returns to a masterwork, Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto

When German violinist Christian Tetzlaff returns to Orchestra Hall, for Chicago Symphony concerts Nov. 3-5 under Edward Gardner, he will perform Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2. 

It's a work ensconced among Tetzlaff’s concert favorites. At a Juilliard master class, he remarked on the unusual timbres heard in the opening movement, he said, “There is almost a comic feeling to the harmonies.” As he described a line as “creeping up and down in minor seconds,” he added, “Bartók is mixing two themes, as if a film director is editing them in the wrong order. Remember how strange this music is!” 

Gramophone named his 2018 recording of the Bartok Violin Concertos with the Helsinki Philharmonic and Hannu Lintu as its Concerto Recording of the Year. In a review for the magazine, critic Rob Cowan wrote, Bartók’s brilliantly scored Second Concerto in particular is a blend of earth and spirit, formal sophistication and phantasmagorical invention, folk-like themes and harmonic originality. These elements are securely focused by Tetzlaff and Lintu in the second movement especially, where, to call on a nature metaphor, the music suggests an exquisitely colored hummingbird: such fragile beauty in the quieter episodes, sometimes reduced to a mere whisper ... the effect is dramatic. In the movement’s central scherzo episode, with its tremulously dialoguing violin and percussion, you can almost feel the music’s physical impact.”