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S & H Concert Review

Castello, Marini, Tartini (arr. Zandonai), Vivaldi, Anne-Sophie Mutter (vln/director), London Philharmonic Orchestra, RFH, 4th June 2003 (MB)

Although Anne-Sophie Mutter only directed half of this concert it was the part she didn’t conduct (or play in) that impressed more - albeit only marginally. Like many violinists who cross over into different territory Ms Mutter’s is not without its problems. Her direction is limited, seemingly restricted to a single opening up beat (excessively limited during the Tartini, one should add) and it is also arguable that her technique and tone are not what they once were.

Tartini’s Devil Trill Sonata (in Zandonai’s Mussolinian orchestration – but here using a harpsichord rather than piano) sounded as bloated as I have heard it in this over-indulgent arrangement made in 1940. Evidently Ms Mutter sees value in it, especially since she has made a recording of the piece, but it fails to highlight what the Tartini is all about: an effervescence of clever technique, often exposed as such. Yet, despite the shroud of orchestration that often works against the soloist she was unable to brush aside some inconsistencies in technique. A momentary loss of concentration in the opening movement was surprising, as was the wiry tone which became less so as the performance gained in confidence. Where violinists falter – in the cadenza – she didn’t and her double-stopping was often thrilling. But this was pretty soul-less playing – a performance few present who know the violin/piano arrangement can really have been thrilled with.

A similar story beset her performance of Vivaldi’s evergreen Four Seasons. Far too wintry – with not enough of the spring and summer – it seemed to be a performance of limited imagination coupled with icy touches oddly out of place in this work. Impeccable technique, yes, but all the more depressing for its lack of inventiveness and passion.

Quite what Andrew Manze, who guest led the LPO on this occasion, made of all this would be interesting to know. He himself directed two beautifully played accounts of Castello’s Sonata for bowed instruments, Book II No.16 and Marini’s Balletto secondo and Passacaglia from Op.22. He coaxed lyrically phrased performances from the LPO strings – notably refraining from the over-use of vibrato, which Ms Mutter, in her ever-Romantic style, saw fit to use to excess – and in so doing made these pieces sound harmonically inventive, even transparent. Gorgeous sonorities in the Passacaglia, with impeccably controlled dynamic range, proved revelatory. It was more than a pity that the music itself failed to live up to the quality of preparation which went into these performances.

Marc Bridle



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