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Facing the music, if not her public, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter delivers a stellar recital

Submitted by on Mar 30, 2017 – 3:33 pm

Anne-Sophie Mutter from the front, which her Orchestra Hall audience scarcely glimpsed.

Review: Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter with pianist Lambert Orkis, in Symphony Center Presents series at Orchestra Hall.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

Very curious, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recital March 29 at Orchestra Hall with her longtime collaborator, pianist Lambert Orkis. The programming was imaginative, the performances elegant, forceful, seamlessly integrated.

What was so odd was Mutter’s choice not to play out to the house, but rather to offer at best a profile as she leaned into the piano and in at least one instance read from a score propped up next to Orkis’ own music.

Longtime collaborators Anne-Sophie Mutter and Lambert Orkin. (Harald Hoffmann/DG)

At a certain point, I couldn’t help thinking of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis and his openly scornful practice of playing with his back to the audience. The rationale back in that day was that it wasn’t about the audience; it was all about the music. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now.

Nor do I get all the scores and page turning. Just a few days ago, a well-filled Orchestra Hall watched pianist Daniil Trifonov play a monster-size program with nary a sheet of music in sight. To be sure, there was nothing tentative in the performance by Mutter or Orkis, but did their heads really need to be in the printed music – did hers need to be turned away from the (paying) public?

While I’m kvetching, I might throw in a beef on behalf of these stellar musicians. Through much of their opening selection, Sebastian Currier’s exquisite – and witty – “Clockwork,” what was wafting out from the stage was challenged by unsupressed hacking in the house. At one point, the aggressive coughing prompted Orkis to turn his face in the direction of the intrusion as if to say, “Really?”

Sebastian Currier's 'Clockwork' pointed up the relativity of time.Currier’s “Clockwork,” which the Mutter-Orkis duo has made its own and played everywhere over a number of years, comes across as paradoxical: Its fluid lines and often ethereal textures suggest not the fixity of time’s march but rather its relativity. If time is a manmade thing, framed to help us understand both where and who we are in the cosmos, “Clockwork’s” 20-minute tapestry of impulses and filigrees reminds us that whether tempus flies or drifts is a matter of highly subjective reckoning.

Mutter summoned the composer from the audience and insisted that he join arm in arm with the two performers in accepting a roundly appreciative ovation.

Mozart followed, an eloquent and buoyant turn through his Sonata for Violin and Piano in A, K. 526 – written in 1787, the same year as the opera “Don Giovanni.” The sonata shares the opera’s absolute command of musical materials, the same bold invention and profound elaboration of ideas. It’s also very much a musical essay for equals, and Orkis met the assignment with technical facility and stylistic finesse worthy of Mutter’s burnished playing.

Before blossoming as a composer, Ottorino Respighi was a violinist.No doubt the afternoon’s revelation for many listeners was Ottorino Respighi’s Sonata in B minor for Violin and Piano. Dating from 1917, the same year as his celebrated orchestral poem “The Fountains of Rome,” Respighi’s sonata unfolds in three movements: the first a caressing lullaby, the second a plunge into fervent romanticism and the last a grand passacaglia so clearly reflective of the finale of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony that it might have been penned by the older composer.

Mutter imbued the opening movement with disarming tenderness, heated her sound in the ensuing chapter, then pulled out the power stops in a finale that brought violin and piano to a sum of force greater than the addition of their separate voices. Here, as in Currier’s “Clockwork,” the raucous ovation made clear that audiences do not require the same old same old if they’re served unfamiliar gems with conviction and authority.

But it was a grand staple that capped off this fine recital – Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. No question that the violin holds the spotlight here, and Mutter dispatched her virtuosic role with equal parts of stylistic flair and airy grace. This was patrician playing, and the (now very quiet) audience acknowledged as much with roaring delight.

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