Mutter and the Beethoven Violin Concerto are
hardly strangers – she recorded the piece
with the Berliner Philharmoniker and von Karajan
when a mere slip of a girl (DG 413 818-2),
then returned to the piece in May 2000 for
a live performance with the New York Philharmonic
under Kurt Masur (471 349-2). No surprise,
then, that despite her youth (still!), this
was a fully-formed and mature interpretation.
is an evident rapport between Mutter and Masur.
At the outset and before a note had been struck,
both seemed keen to get on (Mutter seems not
to like any sort of bowing to the audience
– a sort of token nod suffices). Masur set
a tempo that was more Allegro shorn of the
‘ma non troppo’ - he can on occasion give
off a feeling of superficiality, and that
was certainly the case here. The music did
not carry through the silences. Thus segmented,
the opening tutti seemed to lack some direction
despite some niceties, including obviously
carefully prepared balances. The six double
basses added weight without any muddying of
matched the LPO’s lightness of sound by deliberately
eschewing an over-sonorous lower register
and by projecting the sweetest of melodies
at the upper end. Masur’s accompaniment was
astonishing in its flexibility – he was right
there for her, every time. Yet he could also
gloss over some of Beethoven’s more daring
moments. When Beethoven sets up a huge registral
space in the first movement (high violins
juxtaposed with double basses), it was not
the quasi-modernist moment it can seem. But
the audience came for Mutter, and she did
not disappoint. It is not just the textbook-perfect
trills which yet had lots of emotion, the
faultless tuning or the way she can inject
the most innocent arpeggio with volumes of
meaning. It was the whole conception, the
way she seems to have absorbed this edifice
and have it completely underneath her skin.
Putting a handkerchief on her violin shoulder
for the cadenza (later taking it off again),
Mutter elevated this passage’s humble status
to an integral part of the experience. It
was the Kreisler she played, treating us to
a veritable feast of faultless stopping.
expert ear worked wonders with the strings
at the onset of the Larghetto (Mutter seemed
to be listening intently). Later these same
strings formed a bed of sound for Mutter to
ruminate over in a meditation of the highest
concentration. In my experience, only Oscar
Shumsky, many years ago in the same venue,
equalled the concentration on offer here.
A pity the finale took time to take flight
(only in the stratosphere of the themes second
statement did the true verve of the movement
arrive). The solo bassoon (Philip Tarlton)
made his phrases dance infectiously; Mutter
really dug into her cadenza, defying belief
in her command of her instrument. A performance
of some distinction that almost made
it to greatness.
Shostakovich can be variable. A Thirteenth
left me wanting more raw abandon almost exactly
a year ago and this was pretty much the same.
The etiolated violin line and (very) dotted
rhythms of the opening boded well, although
there was the niggling suspicion this was
all a bit fast. The prominent early oboe entry,
that can and should be like a shaft of light,
was worryingly literal – similarly, Masur
had no time for most harmonic arrival points.
Control was all and this worked well in the
March with its prominent side drum and glockenspiel.
The second movement formed an interpretative
pair with the first. Lumbering but agile cellos
and double basses impressed, yet one wished
for more of a sense of parody (only the horns
really obliged, being marvellously vulgar).
Only an unexpected ‘Petrushka-moment’
final two movements fared better. The rapt
song of the Largo was positively radiant,
pianissimos really were the stipulated dynamic,
and the harp harmonics were ravishing on the
ear. Good also that the manic juxtapositions
of the finale made for a raw ride and that
the timpani, rightly, battered its way through.
Nevertheless, it was the Beethoven that made
the evening worthwhile.