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A welcome return of a famous partnership in a tour de force
on 27 January 2014
Tempted by the many, previous enthusiastic reviews, I bought this disc as an admirer of Mutter in almost any repertoire, from Baroque Bach to Classical Mozart to the late Romanticism of Dvorak and I cannot say I am in any sense disappointed - except, perhaps by the short measure of 55 minutes. However, my chief point of comparison, Maxim Vengerov's double bill of the Dvorak and Elgar concertos on Telarc, offers little more, even if two concertos seems rather more substantial than the three short weeks offered here by Mutter, lovely though they are.
For all that I can hear the extra bounce and force applied by Mutter compared with Vengerov's more restrained and patrician live performance, I cannot say that the two versions are so very different: both are surpassingly sweet of tone and technically brilliant; these are two great discs. Mutter allows herself a little more schmaltz and encompasses a slightly broader range of colouring and dynamics but she never approaches the excessive expressivity that her critics find in her playing. You would never guess that its original dedicatee never played it in public because he thought the orchestral scoring "too thick"; Mutter commands proceedings and convinces the listener that this is a masterpiece rather than a loose, undeveloped string of jolly folk tunes.
The sound is marginally warmer and more immediate on this later DG disc and the Berlin Philharmonic has the edge over the New York Philharmonic for virtuosity and sheen - but again, there's not much in it. Honeck I have found to be skilled but faceless in previous recordings; here he is galvanised rather than cowed by the outsize personality of his soloist and the results are magical. It is good to hear Mutter pick up the orchestral partnership in which she began her career under Karajan's patronage. It pains me to read unwarranted criticism of this wonderful artist and this beautiful recording acts as a riposte to her detractors and to those who denigrate the work itself.