Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mutter In Mozart

I cannot think of any other violinist--living, at least--who could pull off an all-Mozart recital other than Anne-Sophie Mutter. And pull it off she did last night, splendidly, before a capacity audience in Saint Paul.

It was gratifying to see the Twin Cities musical audience turn out for a concert of five Mozart sonatas for piano and violin. Personally, I did not think that this concert would sell out, but sell out it did, quickly and easily. It reaffirms my belief that the Twin Cities has an exceptionally musical audience, exceeded in the U.S. only by the audience in Chicago and equalled in the U.S. only by the audience in Cleveland. For comparison, this same program, with the same artists, only played to sixty per cent capacity not long ago at London's Barbican Hall.

Miss Mutter is a great Mozartean, and she was in excellent form last evening. She kept five, six or seven emotions going, simultaneously, while always observing the requirements of classical form. Her intonation was pure, her fingerwork immaculate, and she could command any color she wished from her instrument. She shaped phrases knowingly and lovingly, and her sense of rhythm was keenly alive, delicate and pointed and spontaneous. Is there a more subtle violinist alive?

Lambert Orkis was a competent accompanist, and he did not detract from Miss Mutter's Mozart, but he is no Mozartean himself. I kept wishing that Wilhelm Kempff could have been summoned from heaven to provide a more worthy and inspired musical partner for Miss Mutter.

Last night's audience was exceptionally quiet and attentive and appreciative, and after the concert Miss Mutter did something very rare, especially for her: she entered the lobby after the concert, and greeted and thanked concertgoers.

My parents and I had met Miss Mutter before, but last evening was Joshua's first encounter with her. We introduced Josh to her, and he was--naturally--awestruck by her great beauty and exceptional intelligence and extraordinary charm.

I truly hope that last night's concert will not be the last time we get to hear Miss Mutter. She has announced her retirement from the concert stage, and she has accepted no more engagements after 2008. It is to be hoped that she reconsiders this decision, or that she emerges once again after a year or two of rest.

The musical world needs her to commission and to play new works from Penderecki and Maxwell Davies and Lindberg and Shchedrin and Carter and Kurtag. If she seeks new and intriguing repertory, why does she not take up the magnificent, neglected American violin concertos of William Schumann and Walter Piston and Roy Harris and William Bergsma and George Rochberg and Robert Starer?

The first time I heard Miss Mutter was in the 1990's, when I heard her play the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra. It was the best Brahms playing I have ever heard, and her performance that night was finer than either of her commercial recordings of the work--despite the presence of the dour and unimaginative Edo De Waart at the helm of the orchestra. In fact, Miss Mutter's performance was so fine that I talked my Dad into letting me go hear the repeat performance the following night, and somehow my Dad scrounged up a ticket for me and drove me downtown to hear the program a second time, going to his office to work while I was at the concert.

I heard Miss Mutter on two subsequent occasions prior to last evening: in an all-Beethoven recital and in a recital of 20th-Century repertory. On both occasions, she was faultless and inspired. In terms of technique or musicianship, no living violinist is her equal.

My parents have heard Miss Mutter play many more times than I have. They first heard her in 1985, and in 1985 they were not particularly impressed--her technique, obviously, was fabulous, but her musical insight was only "garden variety", or so my father says. They next heard her play in 1988 and, according to my father, in the intervening three years she had become a genuine and profound musician, the only genuine heir to Heifetz. Miss Mutter began that 1988 recital with Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata, and my father says that he was dumbstruck halfway through the first movement. At age 25, she demonstrated, he said, that she was already a finer Beethoven musician than Henryk Szeryng or Arthur Grumiaux, two violinists he thought he would never live to hear surpassed in Mozart or Beethoven. My parents next heard Miss Mutter play the three Brahms sonatas in a 1991 recital, and my father says that Miss Mutter's 1991 Brahms, if anything, exceeded her 1988 Beethoven, miraculous as that had been. Between 1991 and last evening, my parents have heard Miss Mutter play another half-dozen times.

How can such a great artist think of exiting the concert platform at the peak of her musicianship? I suspect that Miss Mutter's absence will only be a temporary one.

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