It is one of the highlights in the calendar of every classical music fan in Berlin - and beyond: On New Year‘s Eve, the Berliner Philharmoniker invite an exceptional soloist for a festive gala. Together the musicians bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new. In 2015, the orchestra has invited German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Together, they performed works by Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Ravel, Poulenc and Chabrier.
This is a live recording, made at a pair of concerts in May, and ‘live’ is undoubtedly the word for it. All the performances have an improvisatory quality, interpretative decisions seemingly made before your very ears. At the beginning of the Prokofiev it is as though Mutter and Orkis, realising that the audience in the Beethovensaal are already uncommonly silent and attentive, had decided after a quick glance at each other to begin the Sonata almost confidingly, with quiet tenderness and muted colour.
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.
Mutter's Beethoven Concerto was recorded live at the final subscription concerts of Karl Masur's long tenure as the New York Philharmonic's music director, and the beautifully played orchestral part is a tribute to his leadership. Mutter plays with a silken tone and astonishing technical command of her instrument–absolute ease in the stratospheric tessitura of the solo part, and an amazing array of microdynamic adjustments that display the infinite variety of pianissimos at her command.