When you go to an Anne-Sophie Mutter recital, you expect two hours of blissfully good music from one of the world’s pre-eminent violinists. You expect immaculate playing; imaginative phrasing; and the intelligence of a musical aristocrat fused with a passionate perfectionist.
Sunday’s recital audience got all that, and more. In a wide-ranging and well-chosen program that spanned Mozart, Schubert, Saint-Saëns and Witold Lutoslawski, the German-born Mutter and her American pianist partner Lambert Orkis rose to a level of artistic partnership that is rare, even in the highest echelons of concert performance. The two have been duo partners for nearly a quarter-century (Mutter herself, a famous prodigy, turns 50 this year), and their ensemble is so seamlessly smooth that it seems they’re both powered by the same musical intelligence.
Still as stunning as ever, the regal Mutter swept onstage in a strapless dress (her trademark) that looked like the attire of a particularly glamorous mermaid. She and Orkis launched into two of their favorite pieces: Mozart’s Sonata No. 27 and Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major. Although the music sounded utterly spontaneous, it also was clear that the two players had worked out every detail of both pieces: every phrase, each line, the duration of each crescendo, and the hesitation before the penultimate note. Orkis, who turns his own pages, played as if he didn’t really need the score; Mutter played with tremendous authority, as if she had invented and owned the music.
You don’t often hear performances that are so perfectly finished and so lovingly crafted. In the Mozart and Schubert, and later in the second half, each note was considered and shaped and refined.
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It was the Lutoslawski Partita for Violin and Piano (1984), performed in honor of the late Polish composer’s centennial, that was the evening’s ear-opener. Quirky, complex, and occasionally thorny, the Partita ranges from delicate pointillist passages and drooping glissandi to explosive utterances and phrases that sound like birdsong. It’s a spectacular piece, and so complicated that it was surprising to see Mutter playing it from memory. With her big, supple sound and fleet fingers, she can get anything she wants from her instrument. Her mastery is breathtaking.
Even more spectacular was the Saint-Saëns Sonata No. 1, which found Orkis in particularly fine form. He was always in the right place at exactly the right time, both supportive and assertive; he was Mutter’s other half, and never merely the background. At the conclusion of the impossibly speedy final movement, after Mutter and Orkis accelerated like James Bond’s Aston Martin, the audience rose to its feet with the kind of ovation that demanded an encore. We got two of them, both highly entertaining: a silky, sensuous Ravel “Habanera,” and a feisty Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 2.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.