The Old Masters
Anton Webern: Four Pieces for Violin and Piano
Ottorino Resphigi: Violin Sonata
George Crumb: Four Nocturnes
Bela Bartok: Violin Sonata #2
Maurice Ravel: Tzigane
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Lambert Orkis (piano)
Remember the twentieth century? Anne-Sophie Mutter certainly does as she is devoting her entire New York residency to some of its more complex repertoire. In addition to three concerts with the New York Philharmonic traversing the concerto repertoire from Sibelius and Berg to Rihm and Penderecki, Ms. Mutter is presenting two recitals at venerable Carnegie Hall with uncompromising programs of what until recently was labeled as "contemporary music". Although her press people are determined to market her as a sex symbol more suited for a jeans advert, she is obviously a dedicated artist of high seriousness with a penchant for the thorny masterworks of the previous 100 years.
Opening a recital with Webern is always a daring gambit and is perhaps unwise since many of the audience were not even settled into their chairs when the aphoristic Four Pieces were over. Almost immediately I was disappointed with the sound of Ms. Mutter, powerful but not rich, strident but not warm. To overlook the essential Romanticism of these pieces is to miss the boat entirely. It is performances like this one which prejudice audiences against this essentially emotional but often misunderstood music.
There should be no doubt as to the deep feeling of the Resphigi work, one of his most eloquent and empathetic. And yet, in Ms. Mutter’s cold phrases, much of the Mediterranean warmth is lost. This sonata reminds me of the great Franck entry into the repertoire and needs an emotive interpreter. Last night, it received more of a metallic spin.
Perhaps the pieces most fitting to Ms. Mutter’s automaton style were those of George Crumb, who attended last evening’s event. Relying on "prepared piano" effects and pluckings within the soundboard cavity, these little essays were interesting if not profound. Mr. Orkis spoke a humorous lecture at the outset of this set, reminding us to cough only at the intervals and I’m guessing that this piece of performance art was part of the score (ala the Hindemith Althorn Sonata). All in good fun and a welcome relief from the uncompromising style of play presented this night.
The Bartok, and even more particularly the Ravel, were not fine performances again because of their total lack of human feeling or musical warmth. This woman’s tone after a while is positively irritating and although she seems to be a good technician (although hitting many wrong notes), she does not lend anything to my appreciation of these fine works which often suffer from a perception problem. Ms. Mutter needs to lighten up a little and let some air into her rehearsal chamber. Cold renditions like these will only make these relics from the previous millennium even less palatable to modern audiences. I seem to remember that in the last century other violinists infused them with considerably greater musicality.
Frederick L. Kirshnit