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Dvorak: Violin Concerto / Mutter [CD + DVD]

Release Date: 11/11/2013 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001930900   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Anne-Sophie MutterAyami Ikeba
Conductor:  Manfred Honeck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Anne-Sophie Mutter has developed into an artist of striking and controversial individuality. Her recent recordings have been the subject of widely divided critical opinion, both within these pages and elsewhere, and that’s a healthy thing. Whatever one’s personal view of her highly subjective approach to matters of timbre, phrasing, and accentuation, virtually everyone agrees that she remains a violinist of remarkable technical ability whose interpretations stem from a sincere engagement with the work, and the ability to get exactly the results that she intends.

This performance of Dvorák’s Violin Concerto is a case in point, and I have no issue acclaiming it as the finest
Read more version yet to appear outside of the classic Czech tradition. Mutter treats the work in the grand style, turning in a performance of bold gestures, hugely contrasted in tone, tempo, and dynamics. She’s assisted in no small degree by Manfred Honeck, a conductor of genius who plays the accompaniment for all it’s worth, with the Berlin Philharmonic sounding magnificently committed. One need only compare the opening of the piece in this performance to the reference edition by Suk/Ancerl with the Czech Philharmonic to appreciate the difference in approach (sound clips). Listen to Honeck attack the opening gesture, and to Mutter’s big, husky tone and wide range of dynamics. Suk’s by no means inexpressive approach sounds positively demure in comparison.

Mutter also has a habit, very noticeable in the slow movement, of beginning a soft phrase non-vibrato and then adding quite a bit later on, and in less sensitive hands this could turn into a mannerism–but not here. It’s all a function of a heightened expressivity that typifies her approach to the music, and when the melodies themselves are so full of feeling it works extremely well. It’s also important not to get the impression that the performance is in any way droopy or sloppily self-indulgent. The finale is one of the friskiest and rhythmically sharp on disc (Honeck and Berlin stupendous here), with a coda that truly does offer the last word in physical excitement (sound clip). There are times when Mutter sounds so luscious and over-the-top that you feel guilty liking her so much, but the love that she radiates has its roots firmly in the musical phrase, and in her joy in the work.

The couplings are also marvelous, and so very intelligent: Dvorák’s remaining pieces for violin and orchestra. The Romance is made to sound touchingly profound, the Mazurek simply a blast from start to finish, and the Humoresque, in Kreisler’s arrangement with piano, surprisingly delicate and witty. Ayami Ikeba provides sensitive keyboard support in this last item. Whatever your final view of the interpretations, Mutter truly “speaks” through her instrument, and what she says sheds an entirely new light on Dvorák, and repays the closest attention.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recordings (on DVD from a live performance February 2013 and on CD from June 2013) of Dvorák’s Romance and Violin Concerto commemorate the violinist’s return to recording with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra after 30 years. Mutter explains in a brief interview included with the press kit and in the set’s booklet that she had had the Concerto in mind, but that other projects had always intervened. Now we get the double whammy, and it seems to have been worth the wait.

For the live performance of the Romance from February, the engineers have provided exceptional definition for the orchestral sound, with a solid, massive bass and a generally warm, blanket-like ambiance, but plenty of clarity as well in the woodwinds. Mutter, for her part, sounds tonally sumptuous (although occasionally grainy in the lower-middle registers), engages in few timbral experiments, and sustains interest more successfully than did the physically demonstrative Kyung-Wha Chung in a televised performance over two decades ago, in part through sensitive, discreet, and subtle portamentos into notes—nuances that, almost by themselves, provide kaleidoscopic variety. In the Violin Concerto (Mutter wonders why Joachim didn’t respond to the composer’s revisions, which he himself had requested), she sets out with all Nathan Milstein’s nobility, even employing some of his characteristic downward shifts, but she creates even more sizzle at the top of the range (which the violin reaches soon after its entry). Even so, as the movement proceeds she sounds more labored in the passagework, though she compensates with brief, subtle ritardandos, exuding what sounds like idiomatic expressivity. And very occasionally, she does employ a vibrato-less, “white” sound (though without sul ponticello , with which she’s sometimes combined it). However that effect struck listeners in the past, many will likely find that it works well enough here. The cameras focus on the soloist, only occasionally shifting their attention briefly to a group making a statement or to the whole orchestra. But Mutter, despite her glamour, isn’t a player cut from the same cloth as Joshua Bell or Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, who sway in a way that Heifetz described as “funny business.” Still, she provides many visual clues to viewers. In the second movement, she forms a close partnership with the orchestra, playing either in rapt communion or in timbral and expressively vital conversation. Nevertheless, for many listeners, the ecstatic climax reached by these mediations skirts close to ruin because of the brief, almost vibrato-less, stretch after her re-entry. In the Finale, Mutter is most expressive—and most convincing—in the lyrical episodes. Once again, she seems to work hard in the double-stopped passagework, due perhaps to the writing for violin and perhaps due to something else too frightening to contemplate. On the whole, however, her command remains impressive throughout the recording.

The CD includes two encore-like numbers, the Mazurek , played here with the orchestra, and the Humoresque , op. 101/7, arranged by Fritz Kreisler for violin and piano (accompanied in the performance by Ayami Ikeba). The tempos in the Concerto, which comes first on the CD, remain throughout within seconds of those in the live performance, though the studio recording is always almost imperceptibly faster. Once again, the recorded sound reveals a great deal of the orchestral detail (Mutter, in the interview, claims to have studied the score afresh for these performances); but there’s a jarring noise one or two seconds into the leader of the CD just before the Concerto’s first tutti begins. If anything, she sounds even more magisterial in the studio performance; and if the video provides an opportunity to watch her create her expressive effects, the CD filters out any visual interference with the musical result. At times, she introduces surprising dynamic contrasts that keep the music fresh (as well as some of the vibrato-less playing that may makes her version a bit puzzling for some listeners). But, on the whole, her playing is more mannerly than mannered, and her tone—more ingratiating than it sounds on the DVD—lacks the occasional edginess it displays there. That timbral beauty shines through the slow movement as well, although the straight tone also makes its reappearance in the CD version, for better or for worse. The clarity of the CD’s engineering communicates many intriguing details in the Finale’s orchestral accompaniment, which Manfred Honeck and the orchestra so illuminatingly and energetically reveal. Mutter is still most convincing in the Finale’s hauntingly lyrical passages, but she is also commanding in the technical ones (with no hint of effort) and makes the theme sound as sprightly as it should but doesn’t always. The Romance (about a half-minute shorter in the studio than live) sounds similarly insinuating on the CD; some listeners may, in fact, find its wealth of nuance an overly sumptuous feast. The virtuosic Mazurek doesn’t seem like a mere makeweight, providing a look at the more ostentatiously violinistic side of the composer’s musical personality. The perennial Humoresque , incorporating in this performance a jazzy portamento, brings the program to a close.

Oswald Beaujean describes Dvorák in the booklet notes as a “fine violinist,” (for about a decade, I think, he played the viola in one of Prague’s theaters); however that may be, Mutter plays his Concerto as a violin concerto rather than as a concerto for violin (some listeners may consider Milstein’s version more of the second sort). Mutter’s, then, should be a recording for those who feel that the Concerto is a sort of weak entry in the catalog of the composer’s symphonic works and who haven’t previously been charmed by the Romance . Here’s a combination of Josef Suk’s authority, Oistrakh’s warmth, and Milstein’s bravura that somehow manages to make an impression of integrity and intelligence. If it doesn’t quite convince listeners that Dvorák wrote the Concerto for her (as one of the players who accompanied her in Mozart’s Third Violin Concerto with Herbert von Karajan thought her performance of that work did), she comes as close as anyone, perhaps, establishing again her position as a major performing artist. Urgently recommended, most especially in this double format (although the CD is also available by itself).

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Bonus DVD:
1. Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904) Romance in F Minor,
2. Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904) Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53
3. 1. Allegro ma non troppo - Quasi moderato 12:17
4. 2. Adagio, ma non troppo 11:20
5. 3. Finale (Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo) 9:53
Anne-Sophie Mutter, Berliner Philharmoniker, Manfred Honeck
Total Playing Time 51:30
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Works on This Recording

Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F minor, Op. 11/B 39 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin)
Conductor:  Manfred Honeck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1873-1877; Bohemia 
Mazurek for Violin and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 49/B 90 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin)
Conductor:  Manfred Honeck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879; Bohemia 
Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 53 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin)
Conductor:  Manfred Honeck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879-1880; Bohemia 
Humoresques (8) for Piano, Op. 101/B 187: no 7 in G flat major by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin), Ayami Ikeba (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; Bohemia 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Pure Mutter January 7, 2014 By Jorge Alcover (Barcelona, Spain) See All My Reviews "A good performance from Anne-Sophie Mutter. Probably the B Ph, with more pasionnate conductor had deserve the 5 stars. Excellent DVD." Report Abuse
 Excellent CD / DVD set December 10, 2013 By Daniel S. (Alexandria, VA) See All My Reviews "Anne-Sophie Mutter has turned out another top notch recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra where she had her debut as a teenager. I like the recording because Mutter and the orchestra play in a balanced way without the violin part being overtaken by the robust orchestra score. The DVD is a visual feast with nice shots of both the orchestra and the soloist. There is a good balance of close up finger work and more broader shots of the orchestra sections. A very nice addition to anyone's classical music library." Report Abuse
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