6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A self-indulging performance
, 15 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Sibelius: Violin Concerto (Audio CD)
I'm sorry to disagree with the enthusiastic 5 star reviews, but this performance of Sibelius' violin concerto by Mutter was completely exhausting listening experience for me after the first listening, and almost sickening after the second listening. I listened to it for the third time, desperately trying to find out something positive about it, but the more I listened to it, the more futile the effort, I felt, so I had to stop my CD player in the end.
As the Amazon's critic points out, the opening of the concerto is very impressive and amazingly atmospheric with chillingly haunting tone of the violin, almost like whispering, which is followed by the elegiac crying out as if coming from the deepest part of soul. That grips one's attention straight way and one is filled with anticipation of an epic journey into the desolate, aurora-lit landscape of the north, that is, only first 5 minutes or so. Gradually, the northern landscape turns into a stage under a spotlight where a celebrated opera diva screams, gasps, blubbers, wallowing in emotionalism. As if that is not enough, she starts to slow down and stretch lyrical passages disproportionately, trying to stuff more of her own beautiful playing into the music, thus impeding natural flow of the music and destroying its own beauty. The orchestra, which emerges here and there out of oblivion, seems totally at a loss, at times, to restore the music on the right track.
The slow movement starts off promisingly with darkly coloured tone of the violin and nobly controlled passion, but by the time you reach 3'12" the music is so much dragged down that the entry of the orchestra is bewilderingly lacking in momentum, and from then on, the orchestra gradually retreats as a misty backdrop (Sibelius' magnificent orchestration is diluted down to a mere background music), while the soloist's playing becomes increasingly self-indulging with every phrase unnaturally elongated.
Mutter's technical prowess is mind blowing in the last movement and first minute or so is just fine, but soon her playing becomes over frenzied and again one gets the impression that she is competing against the music as if trying to squeeze as much of her own expression as possible into every bar. The result is a rather grotesque mixture of technical showmanship and hysteria. When the orchestra yields feeble final coda, one is left with a sense of desolate despair - the slaughter of one great music is complete. The recording balance is too much on the side of the soloist, which heighten the impression that the orchestra is continually under the attack and bullied to submission by one hugely inflated ego.
There are breath taking moments aplenty in this performance, but there's no sense of overall perspective at all. The music is dissected into little pieces and smothered by the performer's too much eagerness to impress. This is a typical example of 'Music serves a performer,' not the other way around. I have no objection to emotional and artistic expressiveness, but every good artist knows, the more powerful is the expression, the greater power of intellectual objectivity one must possess. Listen, for example, to David Oistrakh's performances of the same concerto. Or, Jacqueline Du Pre's renditions of Elgar's cello concerto. Theirs are intensely passionate and profoundly affecting performances, yet they never seemed to lose sight of the composers' vision and perspective, since they had solid intellectual backbone to build their performances on and to focus firmly on the music, not on themselves.
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