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So promising, yet ultimately a victim of virtuosity
on 23 July 2011
It seems that if I express a careful but negative review, I am likely to suffer indignant responses.
If you are a dedicated Mutter fan, or if you like this violin concerto to sound gloriously romantic, this review will not be of interest: there are plenty of affirmative positive reviews here for you.
I would hope that anyone who looks beyond Mutter's image and seeks the icy intensity and fiery bleakness of Sibelius would find my comments at least reasonable from that point of view.
I would stick to the positives first: This is a personal reading, and demonstrates Mutter's exceptional virtuosity. She intends to show from the start how bleak this wonderful masterpiece can sound,the violin entry sounding quieter, paler and more desolate than any other version on disc. She certainly brings out intensity at times, with dynamic changes almost overdoing the effect in places. The orchestral sound is good.
It is a worthwhile coupling with Sibelius' other well known violin pieces of lesser depth, played very nicely, if a little blandly - the humoresque sadly not quite pointed and witty enough to really make any statement. It is a great pity she didn't record all the humoresques for this disc, which is therefore a bit light on content.
I haven't really found this a musically satisfying performance though. I have no wish to string a load of invective and exaggeration which one of the reviewers has found necessary. But I really cannot find a feeling that the soloist has put this together as a complete whole - it has a feeling of being sections joined together. Also, I think that she overeggs the initial bleakness to the point that it is a caricature: the violin opening bears the composer's instruction "dolce ed espressivo" - Mutter's opening is far from dolce, and carries an unconventional idea of expressiveness - no vibrato at the beginning, but a great deal of wide vibrato thereafter in the piece. With her exaggerated pp - p entry (instead of mezzoforte) there seems to be recurring exaggerated dynamic and intensity changes in the first movment. Also, Mutter's episodic slowing and altering pace with apparently meaningless rubato is very irksome to anyone who reads the Sibelius as having bleak but persistent rhythms. All through the performance one is conscious of Mutter pushing and pulling the music in non-Sibelian idiom.
Sometimes less is more.
Unfortunately, the second movement fails to move me. It seems to lack that lonely cold intense passion that brings tears to one's eyes. It seems over-egged warm and treacly in Mutter's wonderful sound. The final movement is a rhythmic shambles, just listen to any fine version eg Mullova, Kyung-Wha Chung, Heifetz, Oistrakh, Kraggerud, Haendel, Neveu, and even Tasmin Little's understated (and underrated) version, and one can see how the music really fits together in the last movement and as a whole. I really find the musical rapport between Previn and Mutter to be disappointing, when one compares it with Previn's greater examples of musical empathy with other soloists in the past (and I really don't mean the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show!). Just wondering perhaps whether their personal rapport has affected the balance of the musical rapport, so that Previn is too accepting of an accompanying role in this work?? Who could say??
It remains a moot point whether personal eccentric readings are artistic or simply ill-conceived.
It is not for me to accuse. Mutter is a truly fine virtuoso violinist, but this performance of one of the truly great original and iconic violin concerti of all time is unfortunately too eccentric for my own taste.
I have many versions of this work on CD, but this one I don't think I'll be listening to again.