REVIEW: Anne-Sophie Mutter and Friends at Carnegie Hall
MARCH 12, 2019
BY BRIAN TAYLOR
Anne-Sophie Mutter renewed her claim as one of the world’s finest violinists in her recent concert with longtime pianist Lambert Orkis. In an arresting program, the pair explored contrasting and deeply expressed emotions through music, balancing two sonatas by Mozart with two compelling, yet very different twentieth century French sonatas. Blessedly, Mutter remains a champion of new music, and a world premiere was among the highlights of the evening.
The two Mozart sonatas Mutter and Orkis played couldn’t be more different than each other. The evening opened with the melancholy E Minor Sonata (K. 304). Its two movements contain many trademarks of Mozart’s genius: inventive scoring for the duet partners (Mozart called these Sonatas for Piano and Violin), sturm und drang, and an endless flow of new ideas. The second half of the program began with the later, and grander, Sonata in B-Flat Major (K. 454). Mutter reliably makes these sonatas her own, bringing her own creative flourish to every phrase. Her inventive application of vibrato versus non-vibrato keeps listeners on their toes. Her flights of fancy also keep Orkis on his toes — and he’s gracefully at her service.
Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano from 1917 was one of the last pieces he penned, and one of his more puzzling. Mutter and Orkis solve the puzzle exquisitely, in an account infused with the ambiguity of the era and circumstances of the work's creation. There is a directness in this music that sets it apart from Debussy the Impressionist. Mutter captures a cry of despair in its yearning, haunted melodic lines. Orkis brilliantly distills the piano part to its essence, which is easier said than done, especially in the jittery second movement.
Mutter and Orkis were joined by cellist Daniel Müller-Schott for Sebastian Currier’s brand new work for violin, cello, and piano titled Ghost Trio. It was as auspicious a premiere as any composer could dream of, and deservedly so — it’s a winning entry into the piano trio canon. The title hints at the fabric holding the piece together — echoes and little quotations of historic piano trios by Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms.
In his program notes, Currier describes the Ghost Trio, which consists of nine short movements, as a “dialogue with the form in its heyday.” The composer’s musical language is not easy to pigeonhole. The style might be described simply as post-modern, with consonant triadic chords appearing in consort with swirling, ethereal chromaticism. Some passages sounded fiercely difficult, but these virtuosos handled them with panache. The composer was in the house, and Mutter invited him onstage for his own bow, and the trio treated the audience to an encore of a rip-roaring perpetual motion movement from the piece.
Debussy's Sonata was written as Paris was under German siege during the first World War, and a few decades later, in 1944, Francis Poulenc published his own violin sonata during the height of World War II. The angst of the time can be perceived in the work's agitated nature. Mutter dove into the intricate, driving solo part with boundless energy, and it’s a marvel how Orkis is able to accommodate both the composer’s intricate demands while supporting Mutter as she races forward.
The evening's emotional highlight was Mutter's tribute to André Previn, who passed away recently at the age of 89, with whom she maintained a long artistic relationship. First, Müller-Schott returned to the stage, and the trio played the first movement (titled “Spirited”) from Previn’s Piano Trio (premiered in 2009), a riveting, American-sounding work. Finally, the most exquisite playing of the night was Mutter’s and Orkis’s reading of the sublime "Song” from Previn's Tango Song and Dance (premiered in 2001). Very moving.
It would be wonderful to have a whole evening of Previn's work for Mutter. His music deserves to be more widely heard as his legacy comes into better view.