There’s an extraordinary and unsettling passage in the second movement of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat (K.454). The music, which to this point has spent most of its time in a major key, shifts to the minor, and its character takes on an aura of gloom rare in Mozart’s output.
When the violinist Christian Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt reached this passage in their Sunday recital at Jordan Hall, several things happened. Tetzlaff’s tone darkened substantially, the tempo slowed a bit, and he and Vogt expanded the dynamic range, so that each dissonance seemed like a cry of pain. When the music shifted back to the major, it was as though dawn had broken after a long night.
That passage is a microcosm of what makes Tetzlaff such a highly prized musician — “a character actor in a field of matinee idols,” as Jeremy Eichler wrote in a 2012 New Yorker profile. Intelligence, technique, and pure heart are united in an artistic persona rare even among great soloists. Tetzlaff and Vogt are frequent collaborators, and the two share a rapport akin to ESP. That reactivity, and Vogt’s own muscular, vibrantly colored playing, gave everything on Sunday’s recital a sense of freshness and insight.
It also displaced anyone’s notion that the sonata, as the program opener, was meant merely as a palate cleanser. In fact, it made for an unusually apt prelude to Bartok’s First Violin Sonata, one of the summits of Bartok’s embrace of modernism in the 1920s. So many frontiers — harmonic, rhythmic, timbral — are reached and then surpassed that it seems the composer could have created at least three pieces with its material. Tetzlaff and Vogt brilliantly conveyed the music’s untamed violence and aggressive energy. Even more rewarding, though, were its few moments of uneasy, nocturnal lyricism.
Webern’s Four Pieces convey an entire musical revolution in a few spare minutes. They were remarkable for the quietly dazzling array of colors the duo produced — here silvery and elegant, there a dry rasp. Sometimes the alterations seemed to happen all in a single phrase. The ghostly coda of the last piece was mesmerizing.
Beethoven’s C minor Violin Sonata (Op. 30 No. 2) had a weight and intensity that placed it in the realm of such middle-period works as the Fifth Symphony and “Coriolan” Overture. There were countless details to admire — the dramatic pauses, Vogt’s stellar control of the piano’s dynamics, the way Tetzlaff bleached his tone to undercut the heroism of a march theme. But what was most remarkable was that there was no moment in this entire, familiar, piece that didn’t convey a sense of total creative investment.
They intended to play only the finale of Dvorak’s Sonatina (Op. 100), as an encore; that went over so well that they spontaneously added the slow movement as well. Both had virtues familiar from the rest of the afternoon — that is to say, brilliant, committed musicianship.