Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Anne-Sophie Mutter "40th Anniversary on Stage" Recital in Taipei 2016/10/11

Time: 2016/10/11 (Tuesday), 19:30-22:00 (approximately)
Venue: National Concert Hall, Taipei
Performers: Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), Lambert Orkis (piano)

Program: (in the order of performance)


musicsamples (online)performers
Currier clockwork excerptYehonatan Berick, violin and Laura Melton, piano
Mozartmvt1mvt2mvt3Arthur Grumiaux, violin and Clara Haskil, piano

Sonata in A, 1Sigiswald Kuijken, violin and Luc Devos, fortepiano

Sonata in A, 2Henryk Szeryng, violin and Ingrid Haebler, piano
RespighiSonata in bLeonidas Kavakos, violin and Yuja Wang, piano
Saint-SaënsIntroduction, 1Jascha Heifetz, violin and William Steinberg, RCA Victor SO

Introduction, 2Itzhak Perlman, violin and Zubin Mehta, NYPO

Some thoughts:

Anne-Sophie Mutter has come a long way since she played under under the mentor Herbert von Karajan at the age of 13. This year is her 40th year on stage (hence the subtitle of the recital). Mutter's style is, to me, a somewhat peculiar mix of traditional and modern. The technique was polished without being over-labored. (There are unarticulated notes here and there, but they never distract.) Her violin sound, as can be expected from her recorded performances, is "big" and warm, with consistenly very wide vibrato. (I would prefer a more varied use of vibrato, but that's just me.)

Unfortunately, Lambert Orkis's piano sound was unreasonably murky. Not sure what happened, but it was unlikely to be caused by piano (a Steinway Model D) alone. (During the intermission, a Steinway technician was tuning the piano and it sounded absolutely "normal". Also in another recital two days after, Murray Perahia performed on a similar/identical Steinway Model D with absolutely pristine sound.) It was most likely due to Orkis's touch and pedaling. Apparently he had difficulty adjusting to the performance venue. 

What struck me most when I learned of this concert was the superb programming. The diversity in time (with compositions from the 18th C., 19th C., the first and the second halves of 20th C.) and in styles (classical, romantic, nationalistic and post-modern) are truly commendable. However, the real genius of Mutter/Orkis's programming is their ability to choose lesser-known but great music. Anne-Sophie Mutter is a renowned champion of contemporary compositions (notably works by Sofia GubaidulinaWolfgang Rihm, Krzysztof  Penderecki and Sebastian Currier), with numerous commissions and enthusiastic performances.  It is one of the best recital programs I have encountered in my concert life.

With the opening piece by Currier, we knew we were in for an interesting evening. Perhaps I was biased, but I have liked Sebastian Currier's music since I heard his Static more than a decade ago and was immensely impressed. Indeed, the delicate colors of the impressionism-influenced modernism and the ardent drawn-out drone of dissonant chords announce a new distinct voice. Mutter did not disappoint with an enthusiastic performance, even though towards the end I was slightly restless by her "monolithic approach". 

The worst performance, to me, was the Mozart, which was surprisingly capricious and anachronistic. Mutter again employed wide vibrato, extreme and ill-considered (to me) tempo and dynamics changes. The "über-romantisch" sound from the 17th C. Strad(?) has rarely sounded more anachronistic. Orkis's murky piano certainly did not help. To me, the result was near-disaster. What saved the day was the personal charm from Anne-Sophie herself. 

Fortunately, the Respighi, which opened the second half of the recital, was an unqualified success. Mutter managed to display both control and sensuality, with full-bodied sound projecting intensity and dynamic contrasts. I was immensely pleased that, many years after the advocacy of Jascha Heifetz and others, this underrated piece has found a worthwhile champion. Orkis's lack of clarity was less a problem here. Personally, I considered this the highlight of the recital.

The program's concluding piece was appropriately Saint-Saëns's showpiece Introduction et rondo capriccioso. The liberty in tempos and dynamics seemed more appropriate here (as compared to the Mozart). Mutter's full display of virtuosity, control and and sensuality was a pure delight. The thundering applause at the end suggested that the audience largely agreed with me?

Mutter has visited Taiwan 11 times, and has been admired by the local audience. The feeling was mutual: Mutter and Orkis played 5(!) encores, each to thundering cheers: "Peter" Tchaikovsky's Melody from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42 (a Heifetz favorite, we were told), Arthur Benjamin's Jaimaican Rumba, Johnny Williams's Schinder's List theme song, Johannes Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 1 and finally Meditation from Jules Massenet's Thaïs.

On a personal note: My first encounter with Mutter was from the EMI CD Meditation, which contains her early performance of Massenet's Meditation. As the concluding piece of this recital, it rounded up my Mutter experience to date. 

current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers.
 As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
       -- The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

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