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From Russia Without Love

New York
Carnegie Hall
01/17/2000 -  
Arvo Part: Fratres II
Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Trio # 2
Igor Stravinsky (arr. Dushkin): Suite italienne
Serge Prokofieff: Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 94bis

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Daniel Mueller-Schott (cello)
Lambert Orkis (piano)

After last week's negative review of Anne-Sophie Mutter I would like to take a moment and praise her for some of her finer qualities. She is a very brave planner of repertoire, not afraid to give five concerts in a row of all twentieth century music. She is adept at her instrument and always in perfect control of her fingering. She is cool under pressure. She is a legitimate proponent of the intellectual school of the violin and exudes seriousness of purpose from every pore of her body. And, thanks to the overzealousness of her publicity machine, she looks pretty good in a bathing suit as well. I feel better now.

It was a bitterly cold night in New York on Monday but no relief was found on the Carnegie Hall stage as Anne-Sophie Mutter concluded her residency with another of her frigid recitals. For whatever reason, Ms. Mutter has spent much of her preparatory time draining all of the emotion out of these important works of the last century and presents them in a dissected form free from the excess baggage of human feeling. The Part piece was a typical opening work for these evenings. A trite minimalist bagatelle, it consisted of slight elaborations on the same repetitive phrase ad nauseam. The audience, not quite as large as that of the first recital, greeted the ending with only a slight approval of applause which seemed to catch the two performers off guard as they walked off the stage.

The one bright spot of the evening was the inclusion of the young Daniel Mueller-Schott as the cellist in the Shostakovich. His animated style of playing was in sharp contrast to the dispassionate Ms. Mutter and the obsequious Mr. Orkis. However, as a trio this group was far from satisfying. The highly emotional piece, relating the process of both personal and political grief, was distilled to a pallid powder and the raw and lusty theme of the fourth movement, so quintessentially Russian in its sardonic energy, was presented as a pale shadow of itself. Ms. Mutter's flat (that is not vibrant) tone was paramount throughout and left this reviewer hungry for a more zaftig interpretation.

She did show signs of life in the Stravinsky, a transcription of some of the music from his ballet Pulcinella, expertly performing the difficult harmonics and even infusing the commedia dell'arte tunes with a dose of vibrato. This was her best reading of the night but was followed by another vapid performance of an ironic Russian work, the Sonata for Flute and Piano transcribed by the composer for his friend David Oistrakh. I am afraid that Ms. Mutter just doesn't get it, or worse, she does get it and rejects it, preferring a scientific approach more at home in the forensic medicine arena than at Carnegie Hall.

Even the encores were cold. The first, Lullaby for Anne-Sophie, was written by one of the coldest of all composers, Witold Lutoslawski. They are a match made in Hell, one writing absurdly uninteresting music and the other promoting it. There were mutterings in the crowd at intermission about this uncomfortable twentieth century music and it is performers like this who give the music of our time such a bad reputation. The crowning insult for me was the second encore. I find it fitting that the American beef industry has chosen the nauseating themes of Aaron Copland to hawk their products on television and last night's rendition of Hoedown left the appropriate bad taste in my mouth. I was seated near Isaac Stern, the savior of Carnegie Hall. I can only speculate how a man with such a palette of violinistic color at his disposal must have felt listening to such a monochromatic performance.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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