Notes and Editorial Reviews
To mark the bicentenary (February 3, 2009) of Mendelssohn’s birth, Anne-Sophie Mutter has recorded a very special tribute combining symphonic music and chamber works. This unique homage to Mendelssohn includes a CD & DVD, both of which feature complete performances of the repertory. The DVD also includes “Encounters with Mendelssohn” -– a mini-documentary about the composer and Mutter’s performances of his works.
Mutter is joined by Kurt Masur and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig (Mendelssohn’s orchestra) for the concerto, and by André Previn and Lynn Harrell on the chamber works. This unique program pairs works that are rarely heard together.
R E V I E W S:
Piano Trio No. 1. Violin Sonata in F
Anne-Sophie Mutter (vn); Kurt Masur, cond; Leipzig Gewandhaus O;
Lynn Harrell (vc); André Previn (pn)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001253300 (77:41) Live: Leipzig 3/2008
DVD Documentary: “Encounters with Mendelssohn” (102:34)
Deutsche Grammophon has issued Anne-Sophie Mutter’s centennial tribute to Mendelssohn as both a CD and a DVD, the latter including not only the complete performance (84:18) but a documentary (18:16) as well. Mutter’s reading of the Violin Concerto seems in its first movement energetic and robust—at least until the passage introducing the cadenza, during which she slows down markedly (as Oistrakh used to) and employs the eerie, vibratoless tone that I’ve noted in so many of her recent recordings. But the effect isn’t strong enough to counteract the almost rough-hewn vigor of the rest of the movement, the combined strength and beauty of her tone and the recorded sound that showcases them. If her view of Mendelssohn isn’t steely and driven in the Heifetz manner, it’s just barely polite, with visceral appeal and strength outweighing etiquette—and Masur and the orchestra storm in the tuttis. In the notes, Mutter relates that Masur had brought to her attention the composer’s
Venetian Gondola Song
, op. 57/5, which encouraged her to spice purity with passionate impatience in the movement. And, in spite of her white sound at the movement’s end, her playing throughout the movement continues the lively intelligence she displays in the first. I remember on first hearing her reading of Mozart’s Third Concerto with Karajan that she brought a unique freshness to each phrase, and in this Concerto—even in the finale, which generates excitement of a voltage that even Heifetz’s performances didn’t match—naturalness and vigor combine to produce a similar effect. Her advocacy of this music seems particularly apt, even though the Concerto’s been performed so many times and so exhaustively studied by budding violinists.
In the Piano Trio (which Robert Schumann compared to Beethoven’s “Archduke” and “Ghost” Trios, as well as to Schubert’s Trio in E? Major), Mutter demonstrates once again her adaptability as a chamber-music partner, combining effectively with Harrell and Previn in a performance marked by urgent, sweeping energy in the first movement, dark intensity in the second, elfin sprightliness in the brief Scherzo, and tumultuous expressivity in the finale. Like Oistrakh, Mutter is able to sink the individual, as perhaps Heifetz never could quite manage to do, and she never unduly asserts her personality, strong though it may be—although the writing in this particular trio may not encourage—or even allow—her to do so. Still, Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose seemed to preserve a great deal of their individuality in their performance of the work with Eugene Istomin (originally recorded on November 2 and 3, 1966, and included in Volume 20 of Sony’s series, “A Life in Music,” 64 519), which though sounding darker and more deliberate at times (such as the opening of the first movement and Scherzo), actually comes within a few seconds of the timings for Mutter’s ensemble.
If Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F Major from 1838 didn’t undergo final revisions, its ardor makes it a sort of complement to the Concerto in Mutter’s bracing reading. As in the case of the Trio, the recorded sound balances the instruments close up, with the result of increasing the performances’ apparent urgency. Still, Mutter seems less clearly able to make a case for this work than she did for the Violin Concerto, as often as it’s been heard, despite her strong-minded reading of the first and second movements and her cheerful, virtuosic one of the third.
The DVD presents these performances in widescreen video format (with a choice between PCM stereo and DTS 5.0). The camera crew focuses on Mutter’s left hand, but violinists can still watch her right arm at critical moments, as when she begins the springing arpeggios at the end of the Concerto’s first-movement cadenza. The slow movement begins with out-of-focus shots, surprisingly appropriate to the music itself as the orchestral instruments reassemble after the end of the first movement. Somehow, the introduction to the finale seems slower and more suggestive when it appears on screen.
The Piano Trio, filmed in an empty hall, contains more visual tricks, as when viewers watch Previn at first as reflected in the piano lid. The second movement features similar reflections of his hands. Once again, the visual element might suggest other characteristics of the performance than might strike the listener upon first hearing of the CD: for example, the trio’s sensitivity to the sonorities at the end of the second movement, and that in spite of the fact that none of the three performers appears particularly flamboyant, with Harrell only occasionally casting a glance at Mutter. Still, the visual element gives an extra clue to Previn’s rhythmic incisiveness in the finale. Similarly, the visual element in the Sonata somehow brings to the fore the richness of Mutter’s lower registers in the first movement, the suppleness of her tone in the second (perhaps suggested by the suppleness of her technique), and her sprightliness in the finale.
The documentary includes a discussion among the players of the Trio (which pits the violin and cello against the dominant piano part). Harrell comments that engineers often rank the venue first in importance and the microphones second. And the program offers an opportunity to observe the musicians listening to the takes and discussing the mixing. The discussion of the Sonata amounts virtually to program notes, with Mutter relating Mendelssohn’s and Menuhin’s part in the score as we’ve inherited it. And Mutter identifies the Concerto’s
Sturm und Drang
as a key element in her performance. For its interesting performances, its first-rate recorded sound, and its striking and, at times, stunning visual presentation, Mutter’s Mendelssohn package deserves a very strong commendation.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
"At 45, Ms. Mutter has lost none of her energy or musical curiosity since she first attracted international attention some three decades ago. A prime object of that attention was a
recording of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic from 1980.... Ms. Mutter leaves little doubt of her current enthusiasm for Mendelssohn in an excellent new recording of that concerto with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon CD and DVD). On the new disc the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (which Mendelssohn directed long ago, Mr. Masur more recently) plays with a transparency that highlights the composer’s classicism. Ms. Mutter performs with a fervent warmth that results in a particularly vital and glowing rendition of the second movement."
-- Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times [January 30, 2009]
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Written: 1844; Germany
Featured Sound Samples
Violin Concerto in E minor: III. Allegretto non troppo...
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