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Review: Leif Ove Andsnes and Christian Tetzlaff at Walt Disney Concert Hall

January 30, 2009 |  3:19 pm

Musicians who work together don’t have to be friends. But after hearing pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and violinist Christian Tetzlaff in a stunning duo recital Thursday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, it clearly doesn’t hurt if they are.

In a well-conceived program of demanding sonatas by Janácek and Brahms in the first half, and lighter Mozart and Schubert in the second, the musicians’ rapport and naturalness created a contemplative mood. That’s not easy in such a big venue. Yet the force of this duo’s concentration and confidence shrunk the cavernous Disney space to a size that felt just right for chamber music.

The curtain-raiser was Janácek’s Sonata from 1914 (revised several times over the next eight years). As with Brahms, for Janácek, nothing came easy — but it didn’t sound that way in Andsnes and Tetzlaff’s  effortless, revelatory account. The pair was especially sensitive  to the piece’s abrupt dynamic shifts, in which they found a rich, Slavic broodiness in the mostly monothematic opening movement.

Tetzlaff’s luminous tone is not large, but emerging from such a major musical mind, it gradually takes on heft. That was also the case in his solo recital in Santa Barbara in  December, when  he played the inner four of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. He said then that, at age 42, performing all six took too much out of him. No wonder, the way he plays. On Thursday too, he was deeply committed to every phrase, every note.

Andsnes also performs with exquisite taste and fine judgment. His rippling keyboard fluency kept Janácek’s sometimes fragmentary and oddly textured work moving along. Both were at their most magical in the lyrical second movement and concluding, almost mosaic-like, Adagio.

In Brahms’ Sonata No. 3, the two kept the composer’s more serious D minor-mood lively and transparent, with Andsnes, especially, rhythmically alert to every move by composer and partner. And their direct approach to the Adagio was eminently sane, unaffected yet passionate.

It’s amazing how powerful the right kind of restraint can be, and in Mozart’s Sonata in F major (K. 377), it paid off handsomely, in an eloquent, clearsighted reading. Andsnes’ fleet finger work and Tetzlaff’s flexible and richly colored violin line conveyed the emerging conversational quality in the composer’s writing for the two instruments.

Their assured technique and warmly expressive impulses also found an outlet in Schubert’s Rondo in B minor. This is salon music, to be sure, but sophisticated salon music. After an energetic, earthy opening for the violin, these musical collaborators delivered the Allegro finale with exhilarating, unbuttoned urgency. For Tetzlaff, it belied the sober, professorial persona that has sometimes been attributed to him.

Two selections from Sibelius’ five Danses champêtres (country dances) served as delightful encores.

-- Rick Schultz

Above: Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, left, and violinist Christian Tetzlaff. Credit: Jaydie Putterman/Virgin Classics