Would You Like Some Mozart With Your Centerfold? 

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W.A. Mozart, Violin Concertos, Sinfonia Concertante, A.S.Mutter, Y.Bashmet / LPhO
Which composer better to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Anne Sophie Mutter’s (ASM) public debut with, than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (WAM)?! It is only fitting that Deutsche Grammophon’s latest photo-booklet of her com with two Mozart discs attached. I’ll be the first one to admit that the eight pictures distributed on the in- and outside of the disc and booklet are hot. If ASM posed for the German Playboy, the magazine would sell more copies than when they got “Ice Princess” Katharina Witt to bare it all. But enough with the silly (if true) comments: How is her Mozart, the second time around?

The promotional DVD sent out a few months ago that presents DG’s Mozart Forever celebration in honor of Mozart's 250th birthday allows for some insights into the Anne Sofie Mutter Mozart Project. Mme. Previn is shown during rehearsals of the Violin Concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante, with long-time collaborator Lambert Orkis in excerpts of what will be a recording of the complete Violin Sonatas and in a recording session of the late Piano Trios where she teams up with hubby André (on a regular Steinway) and one of her protégés, the youngish Munich cellist Daniel Müller-Schott.

It shows her conducting and playing with the London Philharmonic (“an orchestra with almost chamber-like qualities” and “a formidable first desk that allows [her] to fulfill her vision of these concertos”) as well as playing snippets of the other works and much of her musing about Mozart and her collaborators. The latter tend to be relegated to nodding, agreeing and asking questions to answers that Frau Mutter had already written down and memorized. None of this is very filling nor terribly probing but it is very slick and well done and was only to be a teaser, anyway – showing this unabashedly gorgeous violinist (in her 40s, after all) from her various best sides. Yes (and forgive me if I cannot resist the cheap pun), she is one ‘hot Mama’. For pictures to prove that point, check here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here or here for a small selection of samples.

The excerpts from the sonatas cannot, must not, be the finished product – since they sound god-awful. The tangy and creaky Mozartflügel may not ever be gotten to sound good (everything that is bad about the Fortepiano, none of its merits) but the stringent violin sound frequently off pitch (sparing vibrato on steel strings doesn’t help) makes listening even to half a minute of excerpts grating. Even if much improves, how this odd demi-period style -neither fish nor fowl- is supposed to compete against either Manze-Egarr (HMU) or Podger-Cooper (Channel Classics – now on their second disc of what is going to be a complete set) I do not know. Among non-period style recordings it will compete – complete as it will be – against Barenboim/Perlman which is a tall order, too. If you are looking just for some of those sonatas, of course, I can only repeat the highest of praise for the Steinberg/Uchida recording on Philips which I have heaped on that recording - including in the "Best Recordings of 2005" overview.

In the trios there is not much that once can tell from the samples. Her musical companions get ASM’s lavish praise and the issue should bring some deserved main-stream attention to Müller-Schott who lovingly recorded Raff’ cello works and can also be heard in the Khachaturian concerto where he shares disc-space with Arabella Steinbacher’s rendition of the violin concerto. The reference in the trios is still the Beaux Arts Trio on Philips and the original instrument recordings with the “Mozartean Players” on Harmonia Mundi’s budget label Classical Express make for two very delightful discs that are true bargains.

The Concertos are now available as the first batch of these recordings – and I’ve been listening to them on and off over a few months. Mozart was of course the composer with which ASM launched her career – K211 in her first public recital and K216 in her famous Salzburg debut under her mentor, Herbert von Karajan. Thanks to Yuri Bashmet’s excellent contribution, we also get the Sinfonia Concertante but not – lamentably if understandably – the apocryphal “Adelaide Concerto” which has been proven a (delightful) Marius (not Henri) Casadesus-composed fraud.

'ASM'How her interpretation of the Mozart concerto’s actually sounds? Well, it’s very… personal. This Mozart has ‘Ego’ written all over it. She arrives upon the scene of concerto no.2 (K211) like a wild cat thrown into from above, claws ready. And this kitten has attitude and that is established in almost every note. There are little touches, flourishes and aggressive new lines that have “Mutter” written all over them. There are even times where she out-nadia-salerno-sonnenbergs Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg, although I grant Mutter more judiciously chosen (and constant) tempi.

I don’t know exactly how I feel about the D-major concerto no.4 (K218) where the playing has an electrifying, high tension. It’s exciting, certainly, with extra trills and thrills – but perhaps in the same way as swimming in a pool with an electric eel might be. Alertness everywhere in that Allegro. ‘Alertness’ say some, ‘self conscious’ might come to mind for others. The little touches here and there, the shudders (immaculately precise, all of them) are awe-inspiring but will have purists and many other violinists cringe… and the latter not for jealousy, so much, as for the blatant and gratuitous virtuosity in a work that has natural beauty to offer that (one might think) should suffice. Undeniable, however, is the thrill that that playing can induce in all others and it is done in undeniably better taste (and executed with more skill) than a lot of other interpreters’ wilful appropriations of the music in front of them. The tender-footed Andante cantabile is as sung by a tiny, skillful bird. A completely self-assured bird. The all-too carefully phrased solo passage at 5:40, however, might be pushing it. The rock solid rhythm of the Rondeau: Andante grazioso is splendid and had me catch myself tapping my foot all along. Somewhere above it Mutter trills on forever, precision once again being her calling card. The Allegro in the G-major concerto (K216) is fresh and refreshingly brisk, the Adagio of the same concerto rolls out at a pace that borders ponderous. The E-flat major Sinfonia Concertante’s Andante whines a little too much in the solo passages but the collaboration between Mutter and Bashmet produces a delightful result and Bashmet’s intelligent viola contribution can take a good share of the credit.

This Mozart impresses on many occasions but leaves me unsure if Mozart is the playground where I most want to be impressed. I think that I might prefer just to be delighted (like on Baba Skride’s recording). Still, I can’t dismiss this CD as much as the combination Mutter/Mozart would have had me be inclined to. Parts of these concertos are plain fun (one eye laughing, one eye crying) and too well done to be scoffed at. If WAM’s contribution to this disc the primary reason for its success, ASM at least does not stand in the way much. The purist will be horrified, the casual listener delighted. This record, at the very least, beats that worse-than-awful Tchaikovsky recording she recently put out and we are glad to see standards rise, again.

DG 0005078-02

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