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Too Much of a Good Thing

Yet Another Anne-Sophie Mutter Recital

By Andrew Wong

Staff Writer

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Symphony Hall

Oct. 16, 8 p.m.

It is astonishing that amid the designer perfumes, fur coats, chandelier lighting and a noble crest inscribed with “Beethoven” in Symphony Hall, a mass of ignorance can still rise from the pomp and applaud after the first movement of Faure’s Sonata for Violin and Piano.

But with a smirk and a gentle nod of the head, Anne-Sophie Mutter graciously acknowledged the audience and continued on with the opening piece to her “Song and Dance” recital with pianist Lambert Orkis at Boston Symphony Hall.

Anne-Sophie Mutter has come a long way since her child-prodigy years with mentor Herbert von Karajan. She is renowned as a champion of modern music with such accomplishments as her Mutter Modern Album and Penderecki’s Violin Concerto No. 2 “Metamorphosen,” a work written specifically for her. Last year, she finished off her Beethoven sonata cycle, having extensively toured with Orkis in a full exposition of the ten sonatas. She has even managed to record a full-length DVD on the subject.

In the small recital program, Mutter managed to display both control and sensuality, swiftly moving from the meditative sonata, through the lively arrangement of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, to the soft cooing of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Suite (arranged by Jascha Heifetz).

During each piece, Mutter played with full intensity and wit, polarizing all dynamic contrasts to the extremes of her instrument. However, the seductive glissandos, the ultra-wide vibrato, and the hollowness of the piano sections somehow detracted from the overall performance.

At times, especially in the Hungarian Rhapsody (which was lacking in the gypsy character), Mutter’s focus seemed to penetrate so deeply into every bar and even every note, that the overall structure of the piece failed to come through. Her musicality was highlighted in only small intervals at a time, like magnificent pearls on a fine string delicately tied together. And like a frail necklace, these pearls could snap at any moment.

Take the first movement of the Faure sonata, for example: its opening lines were expressed in a sleepy, ghostly manner on the fingerboard with little vibrato. As the dynamics increased, life began to emerge into the tone and a glorious vibrato slowly unraveled onto the E string. This beautiful metamorphosis has become almost predictable in Mutter’s playing. It is wonderfully gushing in light and color, but it happens everywhere, from her opening of the Sibelius’s Violin Concerto to Beethoven’s Spring Sonata.

Having been a huge fan of her playing, I was shocked to find myself leaving the concert unimpressed and a bit empty. Yes, her technique is truly amazing and she is one of the finest violinists of our time, but in a concert situation, the effect is a saturation of style.

Andre Previn’s Song and Dance for violin and piano, a piece written for Mutter in 1997, was the highlight of the night. Mutter’s emphatic playing was appropriate for the jazzy harmonies and sweet song in the second movement. Overall, her performance and her black strapless dress were flashy and thrilling, but the audience was less than exuberant, allowing her to play only two small encores while the listeners trickled out.