Judging simply by timings, Mintz and Sinopoli seem to have decided on a middle path in their approach to the first movement of this concerto: they take nearly a minute less over it than Mutter and Karajan (also on DG), about a minute and a half more than Perlman and Giulini on EMI. Using ears rather than a stopwatch, however, they seem to be giving by far the slowest performance of the movement that I have heard in years. It is a reading from which anything which might savour of soloistic display has been expunged, in which no note, even one of a flourish of semiquavers, is allowed to be 'merely' decorative. Mutter is fond of polishing every note like a jewel, too, but the very opening of the concerto in hers and Karajan's reading sounds positively sprightly set beside the newcomer. The moment Mutter enters the speed slackens markedly, but Karajan watchfully assures that the pulse returns with each tutti, and a sense of momentum is present throughout, even during the soloist's most wayward rhapsodizings.
From 1976, when Herbert von Karajan – already a legend – met the prodigiously gifted 13-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter until his death 13 years later, she was the only violinist to appear with him in concert and on disc. This 5-CD set contains all the concertos they recorded together for Deutsche Grammophon. It includes the concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruch and Brahms; but now, for the first time, there is also the Tchaikovsky Concerto, as well as the Beethoven Triple Concerto with Mark Zeltser and Yo-Yo Ma, and the Brahms Double Concerto with Antonio Meneses.
This SACD transfer of Anne-Sophie Mutter’s Beethoven violin sonatas, taken from a series of live recordings from 1998, does not transcend the questionable interpretations. In each of these famous sonatas, Mutter takes excessive liberties with respect to dynamics and phrasing, and while some listeners may appreciate the thought and care she puts into these readings, it sounds as if she is trying a bit too hard to be “musical”. For example, just before the exposition repeat of the “Spring” sonata, several instances of disproportionate agogic pauses, inconsistent use of vibrato, random adherences to sforzando markings, and a sporadic disregard for (or recasting of) dynamics combine to produce an overly fussy performance that lacks momentum and a sense of direction.
Mutter's Beethoven Concerto was recorded live at the final subscription concerts of Karl Masur's long tenure as the New York Philharmonic's music director, and the beautifully played orchestral part is a tribute to his leadership. Mutter plays with a silken tone and astonishing technical command of her instrument–absolute ease in the stratospheric tessitura of the solo part, and an amazing array of microdynamic adjustments that display the infinite variety of pianissimos at her command.
The idea is for the music to be the most important thing in a performance, not the performer, not the performer's dress, not the performer's hair, not the performer's smile, not the performer's figure. If all that mattered in a performance of classical music was how sexy the violinist looked, Lara St. John would be the greatest performer of classical music who ever lived and Gidon Kremer would be laughed off stage. But in classical music, it is the music that matters most, not how well the violinist fills a designer gown…