This must surely be among the boldest, sweetest, most sensual and most provocatively phrased accounts of Brahms’s Violin Concerto ever recorded. And I can tell you with some confidence, after having recently surveyed a whole host of ‘historic’ violinists playing the same work, that not one of them waives the rules with as much nerve as Anne-Sophie Mutter does here.
Staples of the violin repertoire, the three violin sonatas of Johannes Brahms, project three entirely different characters: the G major Sonata's solemn, lonely beauty; the exuberance and freedom of the A major Sonata; and the aggressive, agitated D minor Sonata. As much as the sonatas contrast with one another, so to does Anne-Sophie Mutter's playing of them. Her vision throughout this Deutsche Grammophon collaboration with pianist Lambert Orkis seems to be built on creating broad distinctions in dynamic range, tempo, and tone color.
Even though Anne-Sophie Mutter recorded most of the great violin concertos early in her career, working closely with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, she hadn't recorded the Violin Concerto in A minor of Antonín Dvorák. This 2013 recording with Manfred Honeck and the Berlin Philharmonic fills that gap in her legacy, and this is an exceptionally bright and passionate performance, well worth the wait.
Veteran violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter is not performing the usual Beethoven or Mozart repertoire here, but branching out to embrace new music commissioned for her. Along for the ride are the excellent New York Philharmonic under the baton of Michael Francis for the first Rihm work, and then under Alan Gilbert for the Currier piece, along with contrabassist Roman Patkoló. Lichtes Spiel (for violin and small orchestra) is indeed a "light game," with layered voices in the strings.
Anne-Sophie Mutter obviously had fun making this disc. In the quiet pieces (Massenet, Ysaÿe, Fauré) which serve as interludes, she plays with her usual exquisite taste. In the showpieces, though, she goes to town, sliding, scooping, exaggerating, & letting all the stops out. The gypsy inflection she uses in Ravel’s Tzigane & Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen is delicious. Even a ridiculous orchestral arrangement of Tartini’s Devil’s Trill Sonata is more amusing than offensive. With James Levine & the Berlin Philharmonic providing uncommonly alert & powerful support, & Deutsche Grammophon’s realistic sound, this disc is a real treat for violin lovers.
This SACD transfer of Anne-Sophie Mutter’s Beethoven violin sonatas, taken from a series of live recordings from 1998, does not transcend the questionable interpretations. In each of these famous sonatas, Mutter takes excessive liberties with respect to dynamics and phrasing, and while some listeners may appreciate the thought and care she puts into these readings, it sounds as if she is trying a bit too hard to be “musical”. For example, just before the exposition repeat of the “Spring” sonata, several instances of disproportionate agogic pauses, inconsistent use of vibrato, random adherences to sforzando markings, and a sporadic disregard for (or recasting of) dynamics combine to produce an overly fussy performance that lacks momentum and a sense of direction.