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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 [33:45]
Romance for violin and orchestra in F minor, Op. 11 [12:15]
Mazurek for violin and orchestra in E minor, Op. 49 [5:51]
Humoresque in G flat major, Op. 101, No. 7 (arr. violin and piano, Fritz Kreisler) [3:12]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Manfred Honeck
Ayami Ikeba (piano) (Humoresque)
rec. Studio, June 2013, Philharmonie Berlin, Germany (Concerto, Romance, Mazurek), Meistersaal, Berlin, Germany (Humoresque)
See end of review for bonus DVD details
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 1984 [55:08] 

Incredible that it is thirty years since Anne-Sophie Mutter last made a recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker. This was the orchestra with which she famously began her international career in May 1976 aged only thirteen. That was at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival with Karajan conducting. Now, for Deutsche Grammophon, Mutter with the Berliner Philharmoniker has released the present CD and bonus DVD. All recordings on the CD have been made under studio conditions in June 2013. In the last couple of years I have seen Ms Mutter play in both concert and recital. It comes as no surprise that this greatly talented and highly motivated performer is on her finest form. I have also attended several superb concerts by the conductor on this disc, Manfred Honeck.From the 2009/10 season as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Honeck has helped rebuild the American orchestra’s reputation on the world stage. I fondly recall a quite stunning performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony that Honeck gave with the Pittsburgh at Musikfest Berlin 2011. At the same Berlin concert Mutter was spectacular in Rihm’s Time Chant II.
 
It’s rather perplexing that the Dvořák Violin Concerto is not programmed in concert far more often. I can only guess that performers want to play concertos that have more emotional depth than a work that probably gives off its abundant lyricism too generously. Mutter has wanted to record the Dvořák for some time and finally the opportunity has come. The great violinist says that she regards the work as “a kind of successor to Mendelssohn’s concerto…” The Dvořákcame about as a result of a request by his publishers, Simrock. At various times during 1879/80, the period of writing the score, Dvořák consulted Joseph Joachim. A composer himself Joachim suggested a number of alterations, but dragged his feet, at one point taking two years to respond. Dvořák was happy to make the necessary revisions; however, the delays meant that the concerto wasn’t published until 1883. The boldly melodic and lavishly coloured romanticism of the opening Allegro is matched here by the soloist’s richly lyrical playing. It’s hard to fault and her unerring sensitivity in the central Adagio conveys a dreamy rhapsodic quality without resorting to sentimentality. She raptly underlines the optimism of the memorably upbeat Finale: Allegro resisting any temptation to drive the music over hard or too fast.
 
The Romance is really splendid and I would love to hear it more often in concert. It contains material that originated in 1873 from the slow movement of a string quartet that Dvořák was to rework some four years later for the leader of the Prague Provisional Theatre Orchestra. Mutter revels in the sweet, song-like melodies of this endearingly romantic score with its short but bold central section providing an effective contrast.
 
After the success of the Slavonic Dances publisher Simrock commissioned Dvořák to write the Mazurek. Completed in 1879 and having elements of Bohemian folk melodies this piece is highly rhythmic. It lasts just under six minutes with a calm central section. I love the way that the soloist’s direct and unaffected playing catches fire. This is a thrilling performance.
 
The themes from Dvořák’s cycle of seven Humoresques, Op. 101 from 1894 are generally based on jottings from his American sketchbooks. These appealing pieces for solo piano draw on a vivid palette. The most enduringly popular has been the Humoresque No. 7 in G flat major. In the present arrangement for violin and piano by Fritz Kreisler Mutter is joined by pianist Ayami Ikeba. The playing is well executed that just exudes affection for the music.
 
Anne-Sophie Mutter’s entirely convincing playing throughout feels both polished and enjoyably spontaneous. The orchestra and conductor display a natural rapport with the soloist and are warmly sympathetic partners.
 
The desirability of this release is added to by the satisfyingly warm and clear sound; splendidly balanced too.
 
The bonus DVD has the Violin Concerto and theRomance in F minor with Mutter and the same orchestra and conductor, here filmed live in concert at the Berlin Philharmonie in February 2013. Although the two works are the same as those studio performances included on the CD there is essentially nothing different about these excellent performances. It’s always good to have this soloist Sophie playing live in concert and here we are given the opportunity to see as well as hear her tremendous artistry, involvement and concentration. Wearing a tight, off the shoulder strapless gown in red Mutter, the epitome of haute couture, presents herself in a way which many artists in the music world have forgotten. Splendidly filmed, the video director Michael Beyer has done a fine job in capturing the music and the occasion and all in agreeable colour quality.
 
What next for this violinist? When I interviewed her last year she said she was hoping to start the Walton concerto and was very interested in the Britten too; both works that felt close to her. Mutter added that she didn’t think she was quite ready for the Elgar concerto at this time. So it’s fingers crossed for a future recording of one of those great English violin concertos.  

Michael Cookson

Bonus DVD
Romance for violin and orchestra in F minor, Op. 11 [12:01]
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 [33:30]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Manfred Honeck
Video director: Michael Beyer
rec. filmed live, February 2013, Philharmonie Berlin, Germany
[51:29]


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