Beethoven‘s violin concerto has now featured on three concert programs I have attended in Salzburg during 2017. All three soloists have done it justice, but tonight’s was the best of the three: Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, the 22-year-old Austrian son of the Armenian composer/conductor Loris Tjeknavorian. The young Tjeknavorian had a gorgeous tone – sweet, but not sweetened, like a fresh organic vegetable relying on natural sugars to melt naturally in the mouth. He backed this up with full-bodiedness, but still kept nuance. A truly remarkable performance.
Less should be said about guest conductor Marko Letonja, who gave Tjeknavorian an uninspired backdrop. The Beethoven concerto excels because of the series of dialogues it sets out between the solo violin and various instruments in the orchestra. Letonja featured none of these instruments, instead blurring all of them together into a homogenized blob. The orchestra supported the soloist – indeed the way most concertos call for an orchestra to do – but this is not what Beethoven had constructed.
Letonja applied the same approach for the second half of the concert, Berlioz‘s Symphonie Fantastique. He did try to emphasize the odd syncopation, which left the work off-kilter as Berlioz intended: this is essentially Berlioz on a drug trip. Unfortunately, with Letonja conducting, the drug of choice appears to have been qualudes. The whole work dragged – especially an interminable third movement. The Mozarteum Orchestra sounded great – although periodically unable to follow Letonja, not coming in together nor always on beat – but generally uninspired. At least they too visibly enjoyed Tjeknavorian’s performance – they knew he was tonight’s winner.