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The 30-year Itch

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
04/14/2008 -  
Johannes Brahms: The Three Violin Sonatas
Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin), Lambert Orkis (Piano)

After three decades of music as ravishing as the artist herself, Anne-Sophie Mutter is making serious attempts to become more than a concert-hall household name. In her career as Herbert von Karajanís wunderkind, a technical sorceress, and the beneficiary of much music written solely for her, Ms. Mutter showed last night that she is almost past her flash and filigree (the ďalmostĒ refers to the encores) and into something deeper.

A recital of all three Brahmsí sonatas played consecutively is not an arduous recital at all. Each are less than 30 minutes, they flow like rivers with variety of moods, and obviously were composed by a man who knew the violin meticulously. (Or if Brahms didnít know it, he could ask his friend, the virtuoso Joachim). Until the Sonata No. 3, the works are far from dramatic, but each have themes whose developments are not quite emotional or cerebral or physical, but encompass all three.

Ms. Mutter understands this organic playing. And if at times she held back, letting her long-time partner Lambert Orkis carry the work, that was only so she could bide her time and let the music flow naturally from her instrument.

The first bars of the opening Sonata No. 22 were initially disappointing. The line was frail, Mr. Orkis was bold. While Ms. Mutterís violin line was pure enough, she was withholding something, perhaps afraid to become too emotional for such a pastoral work. In the second movement, that musical shyness was appropriate enough, and the ending of both was a long and almost ghostly pianissimo. The final movement was aptly graceful.

What stood out was not the most ingratiating music, but perfect phrasing, a perfect touch, a sublimated emotion.

The Sonata No. 1, has the advantage, for any violinist, of a rhapsodic opening downward phrase which begs to be enhanced. The duo embraced the sonata, though the moods had sudden changes. She would produce the most lovely wistfulness in one measure, then lunge out with some high-pitched emotional vocalism before coming back to this same wistful opening.

Ms. Mutter of course uses her violin as a voice, and in this most gracious sonata, she played it like a well-groomed coloratura soprano. Yes, she was always in control, the voice was lovely, the phrasing impeccable, but she sometimes couldnít resist a wee bit more vibrato than necessary.

She certainly didnít underplay the D Minor Sonata, but this was Brahms not as the chamber player but the symphonist. The work is fervent, and Ms. Mutter played with a controllable urgency. Finally, she was playing with fire, and Mr. Orkis followed with equal flames. (He has never been a mere accompanist, but is in every way a partner.) This was Ms. Mutter at her most open, where she was unafraid of that big sound and the unalloyed emotions.

With a strapless gown flaring outward to the floor, Mr. Mutter resembled an unapproachable mermaid. But like a debutante changing from evening dress into jeans, she played four Brahms encores which were anything but sedate. The three Hungarian Dances used every trick in the violinistís book, with an excess of pacing, finger work and tempos. The audience lapped it up. And Ms. Mutter, for the first time, was not so much the immaculate artist as a gypsy fiddler having a real good time.

Harry Rolnick



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