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The Very Best of Anne-Sophie Mutter
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in E, BWV1042 [19:55]; Concerto for two violins in d minor, BWV1043 [16:48]; Violin Concerto in a minor, BWV1041 [16:04]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons
– ‘Autumn’, Op.8/3 [10:57]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Violin Concerto No.4 in D, K218 [24:17]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Méditation
from Thaïs [6:43]
Pablo SARASATE (1844-1908) Zigeunerweisen [7:46]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
English Chamber Orchestra/Salvatore Accardo (Bach); Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Vivaldi); Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti (Mozart); Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Massenet); Orchestre National de France/Seiji Ozawa (Sarasate)
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 15-17 November, 1982 (Bach); Zeremoniensaal, Hofburg, Vienna, June, 1984 (Vivaldi); Abbey Road Studios, London, 25-26 November, 1981 (Mozart); Philharmonie Berlin, November 1980 and January 1981 (Massenet); Salle Wagram, Paris, 29-30 May, 1984 (Sarasate). DDD.
Booklet with notes in English, French and German.
EMI CLASSICS 2076342 [52:47 + 50:11]
Experience Classicsonline

Can it really be almost 28 years since the earliest of these recordings was made by Karajan’s 17-year-old discovery? If it serves no other purpose, this two-disc reissue certainly reminds us of the inexorable march of time. That, however, is hardly a good reason for buying this reissue; what about the musical quality? I was more than a little surprised to find myself enjoying just about everything here – surprised because I hadn’t thought of Anne-Sophie Mutter as an ideal interpreter of Bach, Vivaldi or even Mozart, especially in the light of the very forthright - not to say downright rude - comments which she has made about period performers. The notes in the booklet quote from her article in Strad magazine.
 
It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I began to listen to the first CD, a straight reissue of the original – the matrix number reveals that it’s not even been re-mastered. Expecting something rather stodgy, in the manner of many non-period versions of these concertos - I Musici, for example, coupled with the Brandenburg Concertos on Philips Duo 438 317 2 - I found myself instead thoroughly enjoying what I was hearing. These are sprightly performances, well recorded, which did much to reconcile me to non-period playing in works which I had come to think of as the sole domain of the likes of Andrew Manze and Simon Standage. With good orchestral support and very sympathetic direction from fellow violinist Salvatore Accardo, who joins Mutter in the Double Concerto, my only real reservation was the short playing time of this disc – indeed, of both discs. The recording places the soloist forward, but not unduly so, and the harpsichord continuo is (just) audible.
 
The clock says that these are slow performances. Alice Harnoncourt, for example, takes just 17:50 for the Concerto in E, against Mutter’s 19:55; Simon Standage 14:26 for the a minor Concerto, against 16:04 and Standage with Elizabeth Willcocks just 14:49 for the Double Concerto against 16:48 here. My ears, however, tell me a different story and leave me more than happy with the Mutter/Accardo combination. In the final analysis, I’m still far more likely to listen to one of these period-instrument recordings – Harnoncourt with the Concentus Musicus under Nikolaus Harnoncourt on Teldec 857381221 2; Simon Standage with the English Concert and Trevor Pinnock on DG Archiv 410 646 2 – but I shall want to hear this EMI version also.
 
If it’s Mutter’s Bach recording that is the chief appeal for you, it’s still available on its own at the same price as this reissue (7 47005 2), but go for the new version and get the bonus items on the second disc.
 
The first of those bonus items, the Vivaldi ‘Autumn’ concerto, is more unashamedly large-scale and old-fashioned, no doubt owing mainly to Karajan’s direction: if you’ve ever heard his version of Italian Christmas Concertos by Corelli, etc., you’ll know that he liked the big-band approach to this music. Corelli tends to crumble under Karajan’s weight but that weight is a little less apparent here than on the Christmas CD. Vivaldi, in any case, is very resilient: I don’t think I’ve ever heard a performance of The Seasons which didn’t offer fresh insights, with the possible exception of Nigel Kennedy’s first recording; the only thing I learned from that was that even Vivaldi can be destroyed by being pulled about too much. His remake is much better.
 
Of all the non-period versions, I especially admire the performance by Alan Loveday with the Academy of St Martin’s and Neville Marriner (Decca Originals 475 7531). If I say that this Mutter/Karajan version reminded me of the ASMF recording at times, that is high praise indeed. It may be slower than most, though not hugely so, and it isn’t stodgy. There are rather too many ritardandi for my liking, but in its own terms, clearly set from the outset, this is a perfectly valid interpretation.
 
Once again, however, I am likely to return more often to period interpretations – Simon Standage and Trevor Pinnock again, on DG Archiv Originals (4746162), still hold up very well. Better still, however, would be to go for a complete recording of the Op.8 concertos: the Taverner Players/Andrew Parrot on Virgin Veritas (4820882) or Monica Huggett with the Raglan Baroque Players and Nicholas Kraemer on another Virgin Veritas (5616682), both highly recommendable bargain-price 2-CD sets.
 
The Mozart concerto, recorded in 1981, is the oldest item here. When it first appeared on CD a few years later, there were very few recordings of these violin concertos available in the new format. Now there are many more, including a more recent recording by Mutter herself on DG, but this older version still holds up well. If its chief virtues are the clarity and technical proficiency of Mutter’s playing, coupled with a tendency to linger and enjoy the incidental delights of the music, then those are recommendable qualities in my book. The notes in the booklet rightly draw our attention to the performance of the slow movement, where all the affective power of the music is drawn upon without making the process as obvious as it is in the Vivaldi.
 
This performance certainly whetted my appetite for the complete recording from which it is taken, now a mid-price EMI Great Recordings of the Century CD on 5628252, with Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 and the Adagio. The only reservation, therefore, is that if it has the same effect on you, you may find yourself owning two copies of this version of the Mozart. Better, however, to go for the Grumiaux/Davis recordings of all the concertos on Philips (4647222 or 4383232 – both lower-mid-price 2-CD sets).
 
The two shorter pieces which round off the second CD are very enjoyable, though no-one is likely to buy the set for them. They do, however, bring us closer to our own time and serve as reminders of the repertoire more normally associated with Anne-Sophie Mutter than Bach and Vivaldi: a truly ‘best of’ album would have included some romantic and twentieth-century works. The Thaïs Méditation receives a really heartfelt performance and Zigeunerweisen a genuinely gipsy-like one, schmalzy and lively by turn.
 
The notes in the booklet are short but informative. These two CDs may not be exactly the ideal vehicle for displaying Mutter’s best qualities, but they do offer an beguilingly-priced opportunity to get to know some fine performances – often very fine – of an attractive musical programme. With good recording throughout, everything on this 2-CD is very enjoyable, much more enjoyable than I had expected.
 
Brian Wilson
 

 


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