Tetzlaff/Nelsons/CBSO, Birmingham Symphony Hall

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The Independent Culture

Dvorak’s transcendently beautiful Violin Concerto was triggered by the most mundane prompt from his Berlin publisher: ‘Would you like to write a violin concerto for me? Highly original, tuneful, and for good violinists?’ Yes, he would, and – getting the great fiddler Joseph Joachim to edit every bar – he did.

You couldn’t wish for a better exponent today than the German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, with his Protean ability to take on the character of whatever work he is playing. The character here was Slavonic, and from his opening flourish he found a genial sweetness of tone. Even when playing pianissimo and stratospherically high, he still dominated the orchestra, with Andris Nelsons calibrating the textures in sympathetic support. In the melody-rich Adagio, Tetzlaff’s job was to sing non-stop, and he did this as one imagines his Central European predecessors must have done a century ago. No wonder his students follow him round the world like a Pied Piper. Yet his encore, a Bach gavotte, was messy. Was he tired?

The evening had begun with a rousing performance of Strauss’s ‘Don Juan tone-poem for large orchestra’ – for which the CBSO became very large indeed – and it ended with Brahms’s Second Symphony. But the last thing was a record signing – not by Tetzlaff, but by Nelsons, of the CBSO recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony which had just been released. It was their sixth on the German Orfeo label, which they use in preference to setting up their own ‘live’ label as other British orchestras are doing.

And in these straitened times this activity plays a useful part. The CBSO suffered a grant cut this year, and must make up the shortfall any way they can. But they are better placed than most of the Arts Council’s beleaguered clients. As their chief executive Stephen Maddock told me with pride, sixty per cent of their revenue is earned (mostly through ticket sales), and audience figures have gone up for five years in succession. When they go on a five-city European tour next week they will play Tchaikovsky Four, and Cds will be sold in large numbers wherever they go. Thus they can continue to finance all the other things which make their contribution to multiracial Birmingham’s cultural life so valuable, including performances in schools, fire-stations, and temples.

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