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Mutter in Mozart

Anne-Sophie MutterAnne-Sophie Mutter is known for her unassailable technique, punctuality, gorgeous looks, and stellar career that is second to none among violinists of her, or following generation(s). Last Monday she ended her Mozart-Sonata World-Tour with long time collaborator Lambert Orkis (well known to Washington as founding member of the Smithsonian Castle Trio and as the NSO’s pianist).

In the WPAS presented program, they played the Mozart Sonatas for Piano and Violin in F Major K.376, E-flat Major K.481, G Major K.379, E Minor K.304, and B-flat Major K.454. These works are quintessential chamber music; fragile, light, playful, but also boisterous in turn. Playing them in the sold out Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall is surely not the perfect solution to bring their character across – but then, Frau Mutter and Mr. Orkis would have had to play five consecutive nights at the more apt Terrace Theater to meet ticket demand. This is perhaps one of the limitations built into star power: That the artist’s own popularity (and fees) prevent them from playing in the most suitable venues possible.

Anne-Sophie Mutter has certainly done her share to celebrate the Mozart Year 2006 – releasing three new recordings on seven CDs of the Violin Concertos (reviewed here), selected mature Piano Trios, and the Sonatas for Piano and Violin on the Deutsche Grammophon label. Although the rumors of Mutter’s impending career end are unsubstantiated (when I spoke to her last Tuesday, she got rather upset that a ten year old out-of-context quotation has taken on such a life of its own), their vague and prevalent existence certainly contributes to ticket sales. Hearing Mutter play, though, dispels any notions of an impending end to her concretizing career, anyway. Her tone has lost nothing of the pronounced, lean electricity, her vibrato and trills are still the most controlled and accurate in the business. This excitement, which will turn every music-lover on in any modern work she touches (from Sibelius to Prokofiev, Bartók, Dutillieux, Penderecki, Berg, and Riehm), can come at the cost of a thin-lipped determination that is short on warmth and generosity.

This might be a caveat when it comes to purchasing her records of anything other than 20th century music (her second Brahms recording – a marvel – explicitly excluded), but it is not a deterring factor when it comes to hear her in person. To the contrary.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Mutter, Taking Mozart Seriously (Washington Post, November 22)
Precision, aggression, intensity served the F Major sonata as well as any of the following works. And with accompanist Lambert Orkis at her side, she need never have worried that he might take the title (Sonata for Piano and Violin) too seriously… and suddenly think that he is, or ought to be, to the one who should be playing first fiddle (no pun intended) in this particular work or that movement. To be sure: a more assertive pianist, a more equal match of personalities, might have added something to these works. (I think of the Uchida/Steinberg recording that takes the value of the two instruments seriously and succeeds spectacularly.) Even if Mutter insists that in her life it has “never been about who the star is”, her performance was “Violin +” as much on stage as the difference in font-size on the program indicated. In the Adagio of K.488, though, it is the violinist’s job to show off while the piano offers support in the meandering from key to key. Not surprisingly, this was one of the most gratifying elements of a generally stunning, if occasionally lifeless performance.

The interrupted and high-metallic line for the opening E Minor shifted around beautifully, was rhythmical like a clock, and the piercing quality stood in direct contrast to the mellow and soft play of Orkis. Amid all this, even Mutter’s most delicate touch is fiercely concentrated. In short: it’s impressive in concert, but not likely the way you’d want to hear Mozart played on a regular basis. With more relaxed moments, the listener might find it easier to give attention to the music at large. For all the lightness and delightful punctuation in Mutter’s touch, it was too determined and, indeed, too much of a good thing.