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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 10 October 2015
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on 26 July 2017
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on 28 March 2016
I first listened this concerto many years ago; guided by a critic friend who wanted me to look at Sibelius. I listened to a number of releases by very fine instrumentalists mentioned in other reviewers comments. It did not really connect me with what I felt Sibelius was trying to say - it was all to sweet!! and life is not like that!. Then I found this recording while extending my library of the great concertos. From the first bars I was hooked. Mutter paints reality in every note. Yes she spares the vibrato and yet she is true to the composer. Life is not all "happy ever after" but fraught with pain and heartbreak. That is what you get - truth. Of all my recorded music - this one piece can; and has reduced me to tears and yet left me better for the experience.
The support from the orchestra and conductor for once is excellent. Too often conductors tend to drive in their own preferred direction; but Previn compliments her outstanding performance.
Mutter has become for me probably the finest musician that I will ever hear; and if I were ever to be stranded on the well known desert island - this is the record I would rush into the sea to rescue. Can I say more.
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on 5 July 2001
For a concerto already so beutifully recorded by many great violinists(Kennedy, Perlman, Chung) you would have thought it difficult to add anything new. Mutter's recent recording is, however, extremely refreshing. Instead of dwelling on the more romantic yearnings of the concerto her playing is raw and very sparing with the vibrato. Her engagement with the orchestra is amazing, especially in the final movement where the violin stumbles like a drunk through repeated rythms in the bass. With what is undoubtedly one of the greatest violin concertos ever written, Mutter seems to be in a class of her own.
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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.
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on 18 November 2016
What can you say about this virtuoso recording? Emotional, powerful, self indulgent maybe. Sophie Mutter, in her prime, presents us with a quite unique version of this famous concerto, and receives from future spouse, Andre Previn, and the Staatskapelle Dreseden, considerable support in her vision of how this piece should be played. Some listeners will not approve of this I'm sure but you must at least hear it one time.
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on 25 July 2015
Superb performance, a great surprise. Mutter has a wide range of nuances, the Dresden orchestra under Previn has a large, immaterial sound with exciting spiritual and popular details, from the score, but rarely heard. First class sound recording, full of life and atmosphere. One of the best Sibelius concertos I have ever heard.
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on 4 January 2009
I agree with the editor Ted Libbey totally. It is so strange that there is no high recommendation in Grammophone or the Penguin Guide.
The overwhelming grandeur full of tragic and sad tones...colorful, toneful, elegiac, yet wonderfully uplifting...Neither Perlman, Mullova, nor Kyung-wha-Chung can achieve this effect so well!!!
Mutter in her thirties is a magic! every one of her 1990s cds can move me to torrents of tears!!!!This time, please do not trust anyone but your own ears and my tears!!!!!!
By the way, her 1980s cds are less than mature( except the lovely Mozart 3 and 5 that fit her perfectly), yet still highly original, still worth a listen...
Her 2000s cds are simply no winners,technically common and lacking in the emotional beauty that used to be her trademark ! You can see what I mean if you hear her 2004 version of Tchaikovsky( under Previn), her Gubaidulina, her Mozart!!!So sad that she is on the track of going down!
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on 19 August 2010
I recently bought this for a second time from Amazon, the first copy having been eventually destroyed by thousands of hearings plus chewing by toddler son. I am a violinist myself and have an obsession with the Sibelius violin concerto, having 8 recordings of it by different violinists. Yet this is my favorite and I come back to it time and time again. Mutter plays with such expression and violent passion; her interpretation of this work makes this the most outstanding and unique recording of this piece. I defy anyone to hear it and not be moved.
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on 15 November 2010
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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