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Would You Like Some Mozart with Your Centerfold?

available at Amazon
W.A. Mozart, Violin Concertos, Sinfonia Concertante,
A-S.Mutter, Y.Bashmet / LPO

Which composer better to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Anne Sophie Mutter’s (ASM) public debut with than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (WAM)?! It is only fitting that Deutsche Grammophon’s latest photo-booklet of her come with two Mozart discs attached. I’ll be the first one to admit that the eight pictures distributed on the in- and outside of the disc and booklet are hot. If ASM posed for the German Playboy, the magazine would sell more copies than when they got “Ice Princess” Katharina Witt to bare it all. But enough with the silly (if true) comments: how is her Mozart, the second time around?

The promotional DVD sent out a few months ago that presents DG’s Mozart Forever celebration in honor of Mozart's 250th birthday allows for some insights into the Anne Sofie Mutter Mozart Project. Mme. Previn is shown during rehearsals of the violin concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante, with long-time collaborator Lambert Orkis in excerpts of what will be a recording of the complete violin sonatas and in a recording session of the late piano trios where she teams up with hubby André (on a regular Steinway) and one of her protégés, the youngish Munich cellist Daniel Müller-Schott.

It shows her conducting and playing with the London Philharmonic (“an orchestra with almost chamber-like qualities” and “a formidable first desk that allows [her] to fulfill her vision of these concertos”) as well as playing snippets of the other works and much of her musing about Mozart and her collaborators. The latter tend to be relegated to nodding, agreeing, and asking questions to answers that Frau Mutter had already written down and memorized. None of this is very filling nor terribly probing, but it is very slick and well done and was only to be a teaser, anyway – showing this unabashedly gorgeous violinist (in her 40s, after all) from her various best sides. Yes (and forgive me if I cannot resist the cheap pun), she is one ‘hot mama’. For pictures to prove that point, check here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here for a small selection of samples.

[Edit: The excerpts talked about in the following paragraph were just an impromptu performance for the video; the actual recordings were made under proper conditions and with Previn playing a Steinway. See also "A.S.Mutter in Mozart".]

The excerpts from the sonatas cannot, must not, be the finished product – since they sound god-awful. The tangy and creaky Mozartflügel may not ever be gotten to sound good (everything that is bad about the fortepiano, none of its merits), but the stringent violin sound frequently off pitch (sparing vibrato on steel strings doesn’t help) makes listening even to half a minute of excerpts grating. Even if much improves, how this odd demi-period style - neither fish nor fowl - is supposed to compete against either Manze-Egarr (HMU) or Podger-Cooper (Channel Classics – now on their second disc of what is going to be a complete set) I do not know. Among non-period style recordings it will compete – complete as it will be – against Barenboim/Perlman, which is a tall order, too. If you are looking just for some of those sonatas, of course, I can only repeat the highest of praise for the Steinberg/Uchida recording on Philips, which I have heaped on that recording - including in the Best Recordings of 2005 overview.

In the trios there is not much that one can tell from the samples. Her musical companions get ASM’s lavish praise, and the issue should bring some deserved main-stream attention to Müller-Schott, who lovingly recorded Raff’s cello works and can also be heard in the Khachaturian concerto, where he shares disc space with Arabella Steinbacher’s rendition of the violin concerto. The reference in the trios is still the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips, and the original instrument recordings with the Mozartean Players on Harmonia Mundi’s budget label Classical Express make for two very delightful discs that are true bargains.

The concertos are now available as the first batch of these recordings – and I’ve been listening to them on and off over a few months. Mozart was of course the composer with which ASM launched her career – K.211 in her first public recital and K.216 in her famous Salzburg debut under her mentor, Herbert von Karajan. Thanks to Yuri Bashmet’s excellent contribution, we also get the Sinfonia Concertante but not – lamentably if understandably – the apocryphal Adelaide Concerto, which has been proven a (delightful) Marius (not Henri) Casadesus-composed fraud.

'ASM'How her interpretation of the Mozart concertos actually sounds? Well, it’s very… personal. This Mozart has ‘Ego’ written all over it. She arrives upon the scene of concerto no. 2 (K.211) like a wild cat thrown into proceedings from a hatch above, claws ready. And this kitten has attitude, and that is established in almost every note. There are little touches, flourishes, and aggressive new lines that have “Mutter” written all over them. There are even times where she out-nadia-salerno-sonnenbergs Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, although I grant Mutter more judiciously chosen (and constant) tempi.

The undeniable thrill her playing can induce...

I don’t know exactly how I feel about the D major concerto (no. 4, K.218) where the playing has an electrifying, high tension. It’s exciting, certainly, with extra trills and thrills – but perhaps in the same way as swimming in a pool with an electric eel might be. Alertness everywhere in that Allegro. ‘Alertness’ say some, ‘self conscious’ might come to mind for others. The little touches here and there, the shudders (immaculately precise, all of them) are awe-inspiring but will have purists and many other violinists cringe… and the latter not for jealousy, so much, as for the blatant and gratuitous virtuosity in a work that has natural beauty to offer that (one might think) should suffice. Undeniable, however, is the thrill that her playing can induce in all others, and it is done in undeniably better taste (and executed with more skill) than a lot of other interpreters’ willful appropriations of the music in front of them. The tender-footed Andante cantabile is as sung by a tiny, skillful bird. A completely self-assured bird. The all too carefully phrased solo passage at 5:40, however, might be pushing it. The rock-solid rhythm of the Rondeau: Andante grazioso is splendid and had me catch myself tapping my foot all along. Somewhere above it Mutter trills on forever, precision once again being her calling card. The Allegro in the G major concerto (K.216) is fresh and refreshingly brisk, the Adagio of the same concerto rolls out at a pace that borders ponderous. The E-flat major Sinfonia Concertante’s Andante whines a little too much in the solo passages, but the collaboration between Mutter and Bashmet produces a delightful result and Bashmet’s intelligent viola contribution can take a good share of the credit.

This Mozart impresses on many occasions but leaves me unsure if Mozart is the playground where I most want to be impressed. I think that I might prefer just to be delighted (like on Baiba Skride’s recording). Still, I can’t dismiss this CD as much as the combination Mutter/Mozart would have had me be inclined to. Parts of these concertos are plain fun (one eye laughing, one eye crying) and too well done to be scoffed at. If WAM’s contribution to this disc is the primary reason for its success, ASM at least does not stand in the way much. The purist will be horrified, the casual listener tickled. This record, at the very least, beats that worse-than-awful Tchaikovsky recording she recently put out, and we are glad to see standards rise, again.

DG 0005078-02


Sir G said...

i dunno, charles. in my book sophie has got to be among the most boring and overrated violin players i know! this is often reflected in the quality of the reviews one reads about her -- someone's major point in one review was that she broke 3 strings in the course of one concert. i mean, the playing must not be so great if its interruption is its most memorable aspect?
best regards

jfl said...

charles cannot blamed for this review, i am afraid - he is innocently in michigan and not listening to mrs. Mutter, i am sure. even so, i am not sure how to answer the comment... as i think this is at the bottom a fairly negative review that voices a.) positive surprise, b.) distanced admiration, and c.) suggests exactly what you say: she's not going to be on the top list of most music afficionados in most of the repertoire... but she's incredibly popular. this album proves that point.

but if you want to hear some phenomenal violin playing that *happens to be by ASMutter*, you might want to trust me that the following CDs are first rate, perhaps even w/out equal: her Berg/Riehm recording, her Penderecki recording, (and, though less unrivaled, her Stravinsky, her Bartok) must be heard. Romantic and classical (don't even dare say: Vivaldi) composers I don't much like with her, safe for one absolutely brilliant exception - and that is her second recording of the Brahms Violin concerto - with Kurt Masur (of all people) and the NYPhil. That thing is positively on fire and all her idiosyncracies work - for once - for the concerto. I tend to be disinclined to the charms of her (as a violinist... the female charms - well, that can't be helped), but these recordings rise above personal like/dislike.

very best,


Sir G said...

sorry, jfl, i just *assume* everything here is by charles. shdnt jump to conclusions. shd read more carefully. damn.
well, OK, i take your word for it. if you are the fellow with these really really funny posts on the god-awfulness of Verdi, which we have seen here from time to time, and to which i wholeheartedly subscribe, (and which i have copied to all and sundry several times to shrieks of delight) then your opinion is worth a great deal to me. OK, then. but i will take your word for it and... stop at that -- nothing BUT NOTHING can convince me to waste perfectly good 30 minutes of my life on listening to Brahms, brilliant or not, by Mama or not. Surely, life's too short to spare time for... Brahms? (And Verdi!) ;-)
best regards, what fun!

jfl said...

yes, jfl of the troubled-Verdi-relationship ilk. :) although i must warn: i might warm up to Verdi, too. for now only don carlos - of which i just received a recording that has me sign up for this opera (french, 5 acts) wholeheartedly. it won't change my opinion about nabucco, though - don't worry.

with brahms, alas, i don't share your tastes. of course, i AM much more frivulous with my life's minutes... but i think that even if i were the very model of efficiency, leading my examined life, i'd squeeze in lots' and lots of brahms. most of the chamber works, the symphonies, occasionally the concertos... but then, even without brahms, there is enough out there to delight in: you can always go the penderecki- and bartok-way of life. :)



Sir G said...

OK, i'll try to explain: all the brahms i have ever heard (and as a result it hasnt been such a great deal) sounded silly and sappy to me.

by silly i mean technically embarassing: it is not as hilaroriously hopeless as Tchaikovski's Swan lake whose act one i sometimes listen to for laughs (you can just see Tchaikovski composing it -- with incredible tension on his forehead leaning over the score, "damn! he says to himself, i am 3 minutes into the score, i have already ping-pinged and wham-whamed and toot-tooted, what do i do now?!"), but it is pretty silly. i mean, it doesnt make any sense. it strikes me as structureless, an improvised sprawling shanty town of confused sweet melodies and nonsensical twists and turns. Brahms adbvertised his second symphony to his publisher as a "charming monster". well, i agree about the monster (it is totally shapeless), though "charming" is a subjective judgment i do not share. ;-)

and it is sappy. its emotional content embarasses me.

now, as you observed, it is possible to the bartok (and gesualdo) way -- and i do -- romantic music just isnt my cup of tea -- but there are good romantic composers who are both structurally good AND are passionate without being ridiuculous wimps -- Chopin (a wimp alright, but not ridiculous), Beethoven definitely (though he does come across a little false when trying to sound unconcernedly lighthearted, as in the slow movement of Opus 59, no. 1 -- though perhaps that is not his fault but that of the theme he is compelled to use). i dont like Beethoven, but i cannot deny his music MAKES SENSE.

but brahms?!

OK, granted, there are worse examples. how about Rachmaninoff. have you heard his cello/piano sonata? its definitely worse than brahms. it not only doesnt make any sense, it is also BORING into the bargain.

no i take it back, it is not all Brahms i hate but MOST, i do like some (rare) things in Brahms, i suppose. i hope this qualification will allow you to forgive me this outburst of brahms hate.

so you found Verdi you like? well, i confess, i do have a weakness for La Traviata, there is a great production of it with Lepardo and Angelu which actually manages to be moving in the silly "rinasce rinasce" scene. but the rest of it, so far, goes nabucco's way for me. and even la traviata is a little too much, sometimes. i just dont like WHAMING and BAMMING all that much.

well, i loved your post on nabucco. i think ill have it tatood on my privates!

Anonymous said...

May I please suggest that we learn how to compose coherent, well-structured, grammatically-correct and properly-punctuated sentences before we make such lofty and gradiose attempts at criticizing masterpieces composed by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky?!!! Indeed, that might make the commentator a more credible critic!

Anonymous said...

Don't be an ass where it's not due, anonymous pos(t)er. The true anonymous furia brings wrath upon and hates sloppy content, not sloppy form!

" i am 3 minutes into the score, i have already ping-pinged and wham-whamed and toot-tooted, what do i do now?!"

Make me laugh more than that sentence did and we will talk again.

Sir G said...

yeah, well, anonymous 1, i guess i am as good at english as tchaikovky was at composition 101. but then i am not a GREAT WRITER... ;-) and besides, i didnt really pour oprobium on good old Luwig van. i only said i dont like him a great deal. there are other things i dont like. chicken, for example. how about you? have you ever come across something you didn't like? (other than my post?)

as for that descritpion of act 1 of Swan Lake, anonymous 2, isn't it true though? (glad it provided a laugh!)

Princess Alpenrose said...

Okay, well sorry to interrupt your lovely dialogue here, guys, but did you see the Mozart skull that was "found"?

Go see at & follow the link!

jfl said...

although even bigger quotation marks on "found" are necessary to write about that hoax. they have had that scull for eons-- only the hipbone from his maternal grandfather is new - and the fact that they conveniently announce it NOW, before the festival (and announce only that they HAVE test results, not what they are) kind-of gives away the answer, doesn't it? :)

Princess Alpenrose said...

heh heh, it sure does.