Audiences know how Bach's
goes. There is the big painful cry, then a tense graduate seminar as the violinist weaves and expands that first idea through permutations ending perfectly, repeating the outcry.
Christian Tetzlaff waved that stereotype aside yesterday as he stood alone in a circle of light onstage at the Perelman Theater to play a program of solo Bach sonatas and partitas. This was Bach through clear lenses, through intuition and emotion, through intelligence and heart. His playing reminded listeners that Bach's manuscripts are in calligraphy that flows - no perfect verticals or chiseled note shapes. His playing could have reminded violinists that imagination and, yes, affection carry more weight than centuries of analysis and scholarly rectitude.
Not that this was iconoclasm. It was not. It was playing that found the beauty of balance, of color, and the surprise of wit. It did not rely on romantic sweep to bring Bach up to date, for Tetzlaff was meticulous in creating sound that started with clarity. His use of vibrato was spare, and in the intimacy of the hall, he often presented a climactic note quietly and with such purity that it startled listeners. The final note of the program-ending
Partita No. 3
left his listeners hushed by its tiny diamond facet of tone, a tone that let Bach's wit peek through the riches that had gone before.
Tetzlaff has played, and recorded, solo Bach for a while, and in this program he plotted a theatrical progress by playing
Sonata No. 2
Partita No. 2
in the first half, and
Sonata No. 3
before the closing
Partita No. 3
. That let him end the first half with the
and the second with some of the sunniest music Bach ever wrote.
It is tempting to write "towering"
, for the conception is certainly that. But Tetzlaff found so many subtle relationships, such eloquent phrasing and differences in weight that the music was less towering than embracing. It summarized the sense of exploration that characterized all four performances, and it had the effect of removing the distance between composer, performer and listener.
The very expressiveness of his playing in that single piece helped listeners hear all this music as a whole. Some of the writing startles with its simplicity; some startles by the complexity of its flow and layered meanings. Some electrifies through the technical demands.
Tetzlaff was especially clear in contrasting a flowing melodic line with the pulsing bass built into some sections. The fugues in the sonatas grew so logically that it was easy to just accept the deft adjustments Tetzlaff made as our due. Here was joyful singing, there dark foreboding. Always there was playing radiant with shading, with spirit and extraordinary expressiveness.