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Review: LACO and Christian Tetzlaff breathe new life into Beethoven’s Violin Concerto

Jaime Martín conducts violinist Christian Tetzlaff and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Feb. 7 at the Soraya in Northridge.
Jaime Martín conducts violinist Christian Tetzlaff and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Feb. 7 at the Soraya in Northridge.
(Luis Luque / Luque Photography)

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, normally encamped in Glendale’s Alex Theatre or UCLA’s Royce Hall, occasionally roams in search of different places and spaces. It’s a boon for music fans in this spread-out metropolis who can’t, or won’t, fight traffic to hear LACO on its home grounds.

Friday night, Music Director Jaime Martín and his ensemble returned to the Soraya at Cal State Northridge for the third consecutive year. The turnout wasn’t great; an optimistic assessment would put the orchestra seating levels at about half full, with the loge and balcony (which actually has the best sound) closed off. But the potential for LACO here is great, with a massive, underserved population base in the San Fernando Valley and a hall that encourages the kind of big sound that Martín seems to be cultivating in his first year at the helm.

For the record:
10:24 AM, Feb. 09, 2020 An earlier version of this review erroneously said the concert Friday was LACO’s first at the Soraya. The orchestra has performed there for three consecutive years.

The main draw was Beethoven, and the vehicle was his ubiquitous Violin Concerto, which LACO can play in its sleep. But with the fascinating violinist Christian Tetzlaff re-exploring and fully characterizing every bar of the piece, his silvery tone quality projected with a just-right halo of reverberation in the hall, there would be nothing ordinary about this performance.

The most unusual features were Tetzlaff’s cadenzas, especially the one in the first movement. What we were hearing was a transcription for violin of the cadenza that Beethoven wrote for the piano concerto version of this piece (sometimes called the “Piano Concerto No. 6”), which has the timpani player joining in. It completely changes the character of the movement; it becomes militant, even radical, revealing the dangerous Beethoven speaking to turbulent centuries beyond his own. Add to that Martín’s rugged, big-thinking accompaniment and at last, the Violin Concerto meant something again.

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Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conductor Jaime Martín, left, and violin soloist Christian Tetzlaff on Friday at the Soraya in Northridge.
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conductor Jaime Martín, left, and violin soloist Christian Tetzlaff on Friday at the Soraya in Northridge.
(Luis Luque/Luque Photography
)

Northridge also got the first U.S. performance of Swedish composer Albert Schnelzer’s “Burn My Letters: Remembering Clara,” a LACO co-commission first heard in Gälve, Sweden, in November. The Clara in the title is Clara Schumann, represented by a prominent flute, with her ardent admirer Brahms depicted by a bassoon. Yet the composer I heard most emphatically in this engaging piece is Sibelius — not so much in language as in the feel of the fast sections, the driving momentum in the circulating strings and voicings of the winds.

This is Dvorák month in symphonic Los Angeles, and Martín got a jump on the L.A. Phil’s upcoming survey of the late symphonies by playing the Symphony No. 6, which isn’t programmed often and comes as a refreshing break from routine, especially its ebullient furiant of a scherzo.

Martín and his band seem more used to each other now; they played with greater unity than earlier in the season, and their robust sound jumped infectiously.

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Alas, this was LACO’s only Soraya gig this season, and there are no dates at this venue on its 2020-21 calendar. Valley fans will have to resume fighting traffic a while longer.

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