Customer Review

6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A self-indulging performance, 15 Nov. 2010
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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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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Nov 2010 17:50:04 GMT
Last edited by the author on 16 Nov 2010 17:52:06 GMT
What a surprise! you've voted down all your fellow reviewers to bump up your own ill-informed review... Beware scriabinmahler, ladies and gents, his "helpful" votes are mainly awarded by himself using fake profiles (he lost a thousand plus votes overnight when Amazon tightened up their voting policy) and he uses the same profiles to vote down his fellow reviewers.

Note how all his reviews no matter how obscure or minimal in content (some only one line long) all get an instant helpful vote the day they are published. You only have to look at his profile to see the pattern.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Jun 2011 15:49:59 BDT
Last edited by the author on 13 Jan 2012 09:33:18 GMT
Sine Nomine says:
And it was Jaqueline Du Pre who said: "That is not what I meant at all" after hearing the playback of her Elgar cello concerto recording with Barbirolli. What is the "composer's vision"? Mutter's understanding of the piece is not governed by intellectual objectivity - all art is purely subjective! Scriabinmahler perpetuates a fallacy of thought. Mutter's technical ability and artistic expression ought to suffice in coveying her vision of the piece. As for Sibelius' "vision", it is irrelevant - we shall never know, in absolute terms, what he would have considered the"perfect" performance/recording! And, Scriabinmahler, your subjective views are most interesting , even if I do find myself wondering why you have expended so much energy in expressing such negativity! The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said: "The intellect is the instrument of the will"; and Scriabinmahler's views reveal this all too clearly! I believe that other reviewers give a fairer assessment of Mutter's performance. Furthermore, to imply that Anne-Sophie Mutter's lacks "intellectual backbone" is arrant nonsense! Much of this review borders on hysteria and ought to be dismissed by any intelligent person who understands true artistic expression! Mutter serves the composer well - his music being in very capable and safe hands.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2011 00:32:33 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 30 Aug 2011 07:59:42 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Aug 2011 11:31:27 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 19 Apr 2012 19:13:09 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Aug 2011 21:42:33 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 30 Aug 2011 08:01:40 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Aug 2011 16:56:57 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 13 Jan 2012 08:43:43 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Aug 2011 08:01:10 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Mar 2014 20:23:55 GMT
I prefer to address the content of a review, or comment, and I usually find little merit in personal ad-hominem attacks on fellow reviewers. If people think a review is rude and/or inappropriate they should report it rather than sling invective / rhetoric. I just think that Scriabinmahler made some good points but diminished them by the unfortunate manner in which they were expressed. I have been listening to recordings, radio broadcasts, and live performances, of Sibelius violin concerto (my most beloved concerto) since before Anne Sophie Mutter was born. I have to say that I actually agree with every point about the lack of Sibelian intelligence in Mutter's performance which Scriabinmahler has made, although I thoroughly dislike the style and tone of that review. As it happens, I made similar remarks about a negative review of Joshua Bell's recording. I feel that it is inappropriate to use the tone and personal invective employed by all three above, but it seems that this is the declining way of comment and debate in these faceless days.
I cannot accept that the Sibelius violin concerto should be wayward or lushly romantic at any point. For that reason I can't get on with Mutter's version, or Oistrakh's versions (referred to by Scriabinmahler) of the first and third movement, which many nowadays also find a little too violinist-orientated and slightly too honeyed (not wayward). What I do like about Mutter's performance is the bleak entry (perhaps a bit overegged actually) and the passion in places, but it should always be a bleak passion not a warm one, more like arctic winter sun than true warmth, and it should be underpinned by good rhythmic rapport throughout. Those features lie at the heart of the Heifetz/Hendl version, and Mutter fails to achieve. For a modern recording which encapsulates the balance between violin and orchestra in projecting Sibelius's landscapes throughout the first movement, I prefer Mullova or even Kraggerud (my latest acquisition). Mutter's slow movement doesn't move me, I'm afraid. The best performances of the slow movement are heart-rendingly lonely and poignant, and intensely moving without being slushy or romantic. I count Kyung-wha Chung, Heifetz/Hendl, Neveu, and Oistrakh (despite my lack of real acceptance of his performance as a whole) amongst them. Mutter and Previn just didn't get the last movement to work, in my view. The best live version I have ever heard was Kyung-Wha Chung in London in 1986, when she played Beethoven and Sibelius in the same evening. It was exactly spot-on, even better than her fab recording which I personally find superior to Mutter's for its rapport and rhythmic control. Her playing in the Festival Hall was icy fire, and white gold, in perfect rapport, no unnecessary pace changes or honeyed romaticism. Thus, naturally, I hear echoes of this performance enhancing my love of her recording. I haven't heard Mutter's Sibelius live, so I can only judge her CD. I own Mutter's CD, and I have only payed it twice before, re-playing it in response to the reviewer above. I doubt I'll listen to it again.

"Jeremy" C Robson's rhetorical argument rubbishes the concept of seeking the composer's intentions (aka "vision") by arguing aginst the possibility of knowing what the compser would consider a perfect performance or recording. The two concepts are unrelated.

We know a great deal about Sibelius' musical idiom as he progressed through his composing career. Sibelius personally approved and preferred the performances and recordings by Heifetz, Anja Ignatius, Guila Bustabo, and Ginette Neveu above all others in his lifetime. That helps with perceiving a Sibelian vision and sharpens up what is profoundly original in the Violin concerto, surely. What does it mean, anyway, this "perfect performance" term? Surely one can just as well argue that a performance of Beethoven violin concerto is more (Tetzlaff, Faust) or less (Kennedy, Barton) Beethovenian (irrespective of "instrument authenticity") as one can argue that a recording of Sibelius can be more (Mullova, Heifetz, Neveu) or less (Ferras, Vengerov) Sibelian. These are not necessarily absolutes, but they reflect the general consensus of musical cognoscenti based on the sum of research and experience available at the time. Not sure whether any composer has exactly a fixed view of only one way their music can sound, and I'm sure many performances can find something wonderful which the composer created without consciously realising. And it is a splendid point by Robson about du Pré's self-criticism on hearing her own performance!!

For what it's worth, I would argue that Mutter's recording demonstrates an "understanding" (aka musical take) which seems more virtuosic/technical than musically empathic and emotionally true to the Sibelian idiom.

Unlike "Jeremy" (Jeremy C Robson aka Over and Out etc), I am afraid that I find the other reviewers of this CD are far less well-argued, and indeed unbalanced in their praise, and do not give what I consider to be a "fairer view" from an analytical point of view, even though they are far more polite and reasonable ("fairer"). Just my personal view.

It remains a mystery to me why anyone would want to warm up Sibelius, it is fine straight out of the fridge.

PS re the elaboration of personal invective and ad hominem attacks. Best to avoid in my view.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Aug 2011 10:51:11 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 18 Oct 2011 18:04:22 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Sep 2011 23:36:21 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 Mar 2014 20:24:38 GMT
"..inducing episodic vomiting and my losing concentration whilst I am allowing the projectile liquid to enter the necessary receptacle!"
"Yes, ad hominem attacks are of little merit and somewhat, dare I say, uncouth. However, heated debate stirs the blood and raises the hackles and, given the nature of our common interest, sometimes it is difficult not to not to "sling a bit of mud"."

Only one of us seems to be heated, "Jeremy" C Robson (aka Over and Out, etc).
How about a bit of civility and restraint?
We all understand that invective is fun, but as you say, of little merit and uncouth. Infra dig "Old Chap", as you said.
If you think that your comments are reasonable you need some professional help. Your tone and attitude are out of order.
I have deleted my own restrained (and perfectly reasonable) remarks since they appeared to invoke near-apoplexy instead of reasonable discussion, which was never my intention.
I suggest you do the same, in the interests of setting an example in this forum for civilised debate over civilised subject matter.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Sep 2011 19:25:52 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 19 Apr 2012 19:11:02 BDT]
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