INKPOT#76 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: BRAHMS Violin Concerto. SCHUMANN Fantasie for Violin and Orchestra. Mutter/NYPO/Masur (DG)
ANNE-SOFIE MUTTER violin
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 457 075-2
by Derek Lim
How could I have been so blind? For so long I have taken Mutter’s recordings at face value – her old recordings with Karajan I found lacking in total maturity. Yet here is a recording which will definitely convert even the hardest anti-Mutterians. A comparison with the recent Vengerov recording which I reviewed here showsup the latter’s inexperience. Not that Vengerov, though only in his mid-twenties, is lacking in maturity musically. What I find is an emotional lack of experience, in life itself. Passages which Vengerov makes much of, Mutter makes even more. A casual listen will tell the attentive listener that this is no ordinary performance.
I had never liked Mutter’s rather thin kind of sound, the likes of which besmirched her recordings of Beethoven’s and Brahms’s concerti with Karajan (perhaps because she was not using a full-size violin? But I doubt), but in the years between those recordings and now, her tone is now full-blooded indeed, and she is totally technically and emotionally ready to tackle this, the most Romantic of concertos.
Her playing is in turns vulnerable, pleading, consoling, defiant, determined, denying, loving……..words fail me, really, when trying to describe a performance of such blinding intensity (and I hardly use the word blinding). She takes more different interpretational decisions than most artists, and even more than Fritz Kreisler himself (whose reading I adore) brings out the character of Brahms’s own sensitive self beneath the veneer of respectable gruffness, portamento-ing all over the place, sliding up to notes, with a vibrato that ranges from wide and fast to hardly any, expressionless and resigned in the most “correct” places I have ever heard.I had tears in my eyesmore thanonce.
On the score of the Elgar Violin Concerto is written “Herein is enshrined the soul of ____”; here it is undoubtably Mutter’s own soul, warm and vibrant. As you may have guessed, I am totally enamoured of this performance of the Brahms. Kurt Masur does some fine, straight-forward conducting, which is quite solid, really, and better balanced than on the Vengerov recording, which I maintain, still has much to enjoy about it, not least Vengerov’s refreshing and well-thought interpretation, abbeted by Barenboim’s secure and imaginative (if heavy-handed) conducting.
The C major Schumann Fantasie, written before the concerto, but apparently more highly appreciated by Joachim than the concerto, completes the disc, and I am frankly not familiar with this work. It seems not to be as dark as the Violin Concerto, but still with its own troubles. This is virtuostic stuff all the same (perhaps that’s the reason Joachim liked it more), and Mutter and the New York Philharmonic give a taut performance, at least to these ears. The bottom line, is, I would buy this CDjust for the Brahms, full-price or not, or if it is sorely under-timed.
This is a recording to treasure, surely, to savour and listen to over and over again, and then again. Anne-Sophie Mutter is for me, the current goddess of the violin, a consummate artist at the peak of her powers and rising yet, I would expect. I am very excited about her coming to Singapore this June. [She came, and we reviewed. – Ed].
If you are in Singapore, this disc can be found at or ordered from Tower Records (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City), Borders (Wheelock Place), HMV (The Heeren), or Sing Discs (Raffles City).
Derek Lim is also FAF (Frei aber Froh – Free but Happy)
474: 29.4.1999 up.17.4.2000 Derek Lim