Previn: The Fifth Season for Violin and Piano
Bach: Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004
Brahms: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100
Penderecki: Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2
Because all good things have to come to an end at some point, my mini Brahms Festival ended yesterday afternoon with a recital by Anne-Sophie Mutter and her long-time music partner Lambert Orkis in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium in the company of my friend Vy An. After the three glorious piano trios and the passionate first piano concerto I have heard recently, I was ready to downsize with his beautifully intimate and richly expressive Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2.
However, no matter how much I was looking forward to hear the expert musicians tackle it, I have to admit that I was even more eager to hear the queen of the violin take on Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, especially the all-mighty Chaconne. Let's face it, if anybody can climb the Himalaya of the violin repertoire in grand style, that’s her.
The concert opened with the world premiere of André Previn’s Fifth Season for Violin and Piano, which is essentially a 10-minute piece representing an additional season to Vivaldi’s legendary Four Seasons. Commissioned by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Carnegie Hall, it in fact does not have much to do with the Baroque tradition, but its pleasantly imaginative score, in particular the jazzy overtones and dazzling fireworks, did allow the musicians to display their skills and have some fun.
In my wildest dreams, I hear Anne-Sophie Mutter play Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas in one concert, but if I have to settle for just one of them, it has to be the Partita in D Minor, of course. Yesterday afternoon, she handled it with her trademark virtuosity for an impressively pristine, assured and vibrant reading of it. The composition’s daunting complexity obviously did not deter her from brilliantly expressing its intense emotional content and life-affirming grandeur. As the audience erupted in applause, Vy An efficiently summed up what everybody was probably thinking by admiringly pointing out: "Elle gère". Mutter had indeed everything under control, and if you did not know why the Chaconne is such a huge deal, this was the ultimate eye-opening experience.
Brahms’ Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 is a staple in concert halls, and it is always with the same pleasure that I get to eave-drop in the lively conversation between the two instruments. After Mutter’s fierceness in Bach – and a well-deserve break for all – the duo’s take on Brahms sounded downright understated. Standing on one’s own next to the unreservedly cooperative but naturally formidable Anne-Sophie Mutter has to be a difficult task, even after 18 years and counting of playing together. Nevertheless, Lambert Orkis generally managed to make the piano’s voice heard, and the result oozed plenty of subtle lyricism and temperate eloquence.
Things picked up again with violinist manqué Krysztof Penderecki’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2, which he wrote especially for Mutter. Extending over an eventful half-hour, the work was not as esoteric as its Polish avant-garde pedigree had led me to expect. But there was still plenty of prickly dissonances and tense exchanges within the symmetrical structure that is rigorously organized around the mysterious Nocturno. Mutter and Lambert took everything in stride though, and delivered an infectiously energetic performance of it.
Back on more conventional territory, the dreamy, borderline sentimental encore was Mischa Elman’s arrangement of Schubert’s "Ständchen" from Schwanengesang, D. 957, No. 4. Because when all has been said and done, you can’t go wrong with trying a little tenderness.